In virtually all stories—novels, epic myths, fairy tales, movies, and even biographies—characters must undergo a trial of sorts. Mythologist Joseph Campbell coined this paradigm as the archetypal hero’s journey, wherein an individual must fulfill a series of tasks to achieve a goal and return from this quest with a boon to benefit society. A critical stage of this journey entails venturing into a katabasis, a sojourn into the underworld or land of the dead. In a dynamically fascinating exploration of this descent into darkness, Brian McDonald (Old Souls) and Toby Cypress (The Gravediggers Union) delineate how this universal voyage into the underworld permeates time and space in Land of the Dead: Lessons from the Underworld on Storytelling and Living. What unfolds is a most intriguing graphic essay spanning across countless cultures and stories that encompasses the multitudinous nuances of storytelling.
In folkloric fashion mirroring some indigenous cultures, a crow serves as the narrative guide who breaks the cinematic fourth wall, steering readers into the magical realms of imaginative storytelling. As an agent of the land of the dead, the crow recounts the earliest written story from antiquity—The Epic of Gilgamesh. This mythic tale embodies humanity’s eternal quest for immortality since the dawn of time, plunging readers into the depths of the underworld, for therein lies wisdom to be attained. Like a multifaceted puzzle box in the episodic tradition of the Arabian Nights, McDonald traverses the landscapes of literature, film, and oral storytelling, highlighting common threads across cultures similar to how Joseph Campbell illuminated familiar motifs, themes, and tropes in The Power of Myth.
This extensive graphic essay traces a literary history of stories from antiquity to the present for the young and old alike. From angelic characters in Cinderella and Steven Spielberg’s E.T. to Scrooge’s grim, sordid outlook on life in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Uncle Charlie’s sinister intentions in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, McDonald brilliantly connects varied themes of survival, necography, isolation, and memory. Cypress’s striking artwork shines through thoughtfully composed panels tinged with shaded hues. Meticulously rendered sketches of characters accentuated by sparing use of ambient coloring amplifies certain scenes and moods, adding a tonal richness to each story.
A treasure trove and visual feast for the literati, writers, cinephiles, and storytellers of classic and contemporary works, Land of the Dead exemplifies a monumental achievement that bears repeated readings for renewed insight. Although not necessarily a handbook on the craft of storytelling, one will discover the intricate underlying frameworks, motifs, and themes that infuse the mechanics and wizardry behind compelling stories throughout time. A fine addition to public and academic library collections, this literary masterpiece cuts across multi-interdisciplinary subjects and aims to attract a wide readership, demonstrating the alluring power of stories and the lessons they bestow upon humanity.
Land of the Dead: Lessons from the Underworld on Storytelling and Living
By Brian McDonald
Art by Toby Cypress
Macmillan First Second, 2023
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Black