Graphic novels, a storytelling medium that relies on both words and visuals to tell its narrative, has been steadily growing in popularity over the past decade. With classics like 300, Scott Pilgrim vs The World and Watchmen, these modern narratives have masterfully combined the arts of writing and illustration. To those who are avid fans, though, Pure Steele may come off as a surprising change to the usually popular balance found in the examples given above.
The story of Pure Steele follows a British party of adventurers into the depths of the African jungles and savannahs in search of lost treasure. Set in the 1900s, the text-intensive and beautifully assembled package that is being offered to you by Concordia graduates Kim Belair and Ariadne MacGillivray, does a perfect job in putting the reader in the time with dialogue that is not only believable, but also timely. Ripe with the moral superiority that came with 19th-century colonial Britain during the annexing of African lands, and sexist behavior exhibited by men in the wake of women’s growing social identity, the novel makes no excuse for these inadequacies and, in fact, uses them as a storytelling tool.
Sitting at a whopping 234 pages — comprised mostly of text — this graphic novel is anything but a short read. With that said, taking away the graphical presentation of the novel would heavily detract from the way the story is told. Choosing to have the story presented in the form of multiple narrative perspectives, rather than using an insider’s description, or a detached narrative, helps readers understand the characters and their motives, but also allows readers to read between the lines and uncover details that would ruin the story’s intrigue should they be revealed in another narrative fashion.
The novel is built using journal clippings (which are handwritten) and typewritten letters to and from London and Africa, with background illustrations to help accompany these letters. Although the pacing is a little slow at first, it’s never made unbearable. With the exception of a few anachronisms, the book is believable by all standards. If a single complaint could be lodged, it would be the dubious choice of font used for the handwritten journals, which at times could get a little difficult to decipher to those who haven’t read cursive documents in a while.
All things said, Pure Steele is energetic, full of originality, and explores an often-forgotten time period with distinction, tact, and accuracy that builds a convincingly realistic tale and requires very little suspension of disbelief. The price tag of about $40 is hefty, but comes chock-full of beautiful, unique artwork, making this a must-have for any fans of both graphic novels, and fans of stories reminiscent of Indiana Jones.
You can find out more information about Pure Steele and its authors, as well as purchase the novel itself on their website at puresteele.com.