The website for Owl Eye Comics includes a section with the title “what’s a maroon?!”. If your comic has to start with an introduction to the basics of the subject, then you are immediately at a disadvantage, but the information provided here and the whole subject of The Maroon grabbed our attention.
It’s not a part of history or culture that we knew anything about, but straight away we were enthralled and wanted to know more. We found ourselves questioning why we didn’t know this stuff already.
“Maroon” was a term used to describe escaped African American slaves and their descendants, who formed isolated communities alongside native Americans, preserving and sharing their cultural identities whilst fighting for their right to survive. Creator of The Maroon comic, Derek W. Lipscomb, explains that he himself became aware of this little known aspect of American history when researching his own genealogy.
The Maroon, set in the dense forests of Tennessee in 1850, follows a runaway slave who encounters a Chickasaw farmer and his son whilst fleeing from the group of white men who accuse him of a terrible crime. As these three cultures are brought violently together, The Maroon blends action with historical fiction and a healthy dose of Native American mythology. The brutal reality of a people divided along racial lines is combined with a dreamlike wilderness they find themselves inhabiting.
These compelling characters all appear to be well researched, and speak with distinctive voices. From knowing almost nothing about these cultures, we were comfortable that we understood the characters, their hopes and weaknesses, without any suggestion of stereotyping. Each character has their own background, which is suggested rather than signposted. The weaknesses of racism, and how it defined lives, is made clear from the outset. This is done subtly, through realistic and compelling dialogue and small references.
The Maroon is packed with vibrant art, with lush green environments, and emotive and sympathetic characters. The action is clearly conveyed, and each panel beautifully composed. There’s a level of detail that shows a real passion, and we found ourselves drawn into this world from the first image.
If The Maroon has a weakness, we felt it was in the heavy used of sound effects. Its action scenes sometimes combine several types of lettering font on a single page, the style of which can starkly contract with the tone of the rest of the scene. We felt that the art was of such a high standard that many of these scenes could have been given more weight by being soundless. It’s a minor issue, which shouldn’t discourage anyone who is thinking about giving The Maroon a read.
We read the first episode of The Maroon, which slowly builds tension with the story of a hunted man, culminating in an explosion of graphic violence. We found that we still knew almost nothing of the main character, and we wanted to know more, not just of him, but this world and its history.
There’s a willingness to do the unpredictable here, to introduce sympathetic characters and violently dispatch them, or to lift elements of myth and pull them into the real world, which makes us believe that The Maroon will continue to be a fascinating journey.