Think of Stone Age men wandering around in furs and, chances are, you probably conjure up an image of savages. Loosely organised into tribes perhaps, but savages nonetheless. Ben Haggarty and Adam Brockbank aim to shatter this misconception with Mezolith, the story of a young boy from this era, who lives in a community that’s arguably less savage than most modern western communities.
The story is aimed at older children and was initially published in ill-fated anthology comic The DFC. But Mezolith and a handful of other titles have now been collected into individual graphic novels. Aimed at children, yes, but we’d challenge any adult not to fully engage with this story – it’s beautifully written and near-perfectly illustrated. In my mind at least, it’s an instant classic.
The story starts with our young hero, Poika, spotting a wandering bull in the forest. Reporting the news back to his father, a hunt is organised. Poika’s people worship a Mother Earth-like deity called Uljas, who provides them with animals to hunt, and fruit and vegetables to gather. As a result, the opportunity is ritually and meticulously planned, out of respect for the animal and their god. At the end of the kill we see how far from savage these hunters are – the animal is dispatched as quickly as possible and with the deepest of respect, then no part of the beast is wasted.
In the process of hunting the bull, however, the impetuous Poika is injured. The village’s strange, hermit-like shaman comes down from her cliff-top aerie with a mixture of knowledge and magic to try and cure the boy’s infected wound.
The story continues through dangerous encounters with the tribe’s brutal neighbours and more tales of their hunting and gathering adventures, as Poika learns the way of the men of his tribe. Haggarty uses the tribes own story-telling culture to impart knowledge to both his characters and the reader – a very effective way to create flashbacks and build background.
Brockbank’s art feels authentic. He places us into the heart of this community and creates believable, breathing dioramas. His scenery is simply stunning, his characters compelling and their clothes and tools just look the part.
Linking these two elements of story and art together, we’re left with a terrific piece of work. It holds together, clearly well researched but also embracing the mythological as well as the practical elements of living in a hostile, natural world. Human knowledge, contact and ingenuity seem to hold the key to survival and there’s a strong message underpinning the book, that community and society make the best chances humanity has of surviving in the long term.
If the setting intrigues you, you can’t fail to be touched by this book. It’s a bit dark in places, and while this adds to its power, it makes it inappropriate for young children. There’s little need to focus beyond this in terms of its target audience though – like the best children’s books before it, Mezolith will appeal to a wide variety of readers, making no compromises except for its clarity and legibility. We hold no reservations in awarding this top marks across the board. More please!