I’ve been anticipating this graphic novel for a long time. Like most Kickstarters, it’s always a bit of a gamble when it comes to whether the project will get funded, when it will get delivered and what the final product will be like. I backed the project in September 2015, and I only just got my reward this week and I couldn’t wait to crack it open.
“Australi” is a graphic novel written by Timothy Wood and illustrated by Pius Bak. An alternative history with a good dash of fantasy, this story is set in an Australia colonised by three empires: the British, the Far East Serpentes Federation and the Red Jade Dynasty. These three empires are carving the land up for its precious gemstones but as a result of their greed, the beautiful country they have occupied has started to die. Australi’s fate is in the hands of Maloo: a young orphan Aboriginal boy. In possession of a stolen gem and on the run from camel folk, Maloo finds himself on a serious detour after falling into a dark cave.
Probably the first thing you’ll notice about this graphic novel is the artwork, it is undoubtedly gorgeous. The story is short and gripping, and I was surprised that the first volume ended so soon. The dialogue and text is pretty sparse, but there’s a real sense of the beginning of an epic story. The character design is pretty cool and I particularly like the guardians, the giant animals and Imogen (though I’m looking forward to seeing some more female characters in later volumes).
As excited as I was to receive this graphic novel, I was also a bit apprehensive. I thoroughly support more representation of Aboriginal characters in media, and have been really excited about things like acclaimed TV series Cleverman and reading stories by authors like Anita Heiss, but I fretted about how this would go. Neither the author nor the illustrator are Aboriginal. However, when I first opened the book, right at the beginning there was a statement at the front that says:
“Australi was created to celebrate the heritage of Australia and the First Nations’ Peoples. This story is not their story, but an attempt to capture its spirit. The team consulted throughout with Indigenous artists, community figures and cultural centres and firmly believe what has been hidden, now needs to be seen. To know, to celebrate and to honour”.
It’s a little early to tell, but I think so far it seems like the author and illustrator have treated their story sensitively. We only meet Maloo and the Guardians in this first issue so I’m looking forward to seeing more characters. I think the only thing that was a bit confusing is that Maloo is an orphan who is isolated from his culture, yet he has a boomerang and is wearing body paint. I think this could have been a good opportunity to shed a bit of light on growing up disconnected from your culture, and I’d like to see this get either explained or fleshed out in later issues.
“Australi” looks like the beginnings of an original Australian fantasy adventure, and it’s great to see a bit more diversity in the leading character. It’s a cracking read and I’m really looking forward to future issues of what I hope is a great series.