A colourful science fiction graphic novel, set on a strange alien world, that uses a vocabulary of just 16 words.

Comics without words have always been challenging. Some creators, such as Jason, have built a career around the concept and do it remarkably well, but other attempts have felt gimmicky. Anasazi isn’t completely wordless, but uses a very limited vocabulary of 16 words and seven key character names, pictured as glyphs throughout the book. The words cover off a few key concepts that are essential to the plot, such as ‘ancient enemy’ and ‘help me.’

"Ancient enemy" in Anasazi

At the start of the story, it works reasonably well. Words are introduced chapter by chapter, so it starts relatively simply. As the story gathers pace, however, it increases in complexity, with more and more characters and more words. This leads to the story getting lost amidst its limited ability to clarify itself.

It’s not helped by the fact that the characters all look identical, apart from some subtle facial markings, and that their name glyphs don’t seem to have any relevance to their appearance or station in life. Which makes some sense, since names are usually given before we know who we are or what we look like, but it doesn’t help make the book any clearer.

"Help me" in Anasazi

The story takes place on an evidently alien planet. We know it’s alien, because the humanoid species we’re following have little arms coming out of their heads. They’re relatively primitive, using spears and arrows for hunting and combat, and obviously don’t have much language beyond a few words. There are a handful of different tribes or races of these people, though, who are distinguished by colour. The first group we meet are blue, but as the story progresses, a red tribe appears, followed by yellow, black and more.

Surely enough, fighting ensues, and it’s perhaps here that the story lost me. You have to draw your own conclusions about the wars and the aftermaths, as the characters certainly don’t have enough words to explain what’s going through their minds or what they’re doing in particular places at particular times. There are some obvious themes of war and assimilation of cultures going on, but I can’t really put my finger on what the overarching theme is.

It’s an intriguing story but it’s hampered, rather than enriched, by its lack of vocabulary. It’s clear that the writer and artist know what’s happening in the book, but the story doesn’t gather enough traction with the reader to get this message across.

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