What first intrigued me about Kimble Bent. Malcontent by Chris Grosz was the cover: so lively and dynamic, promising an action-filled adventure. When my copy arrived in the mail my husband snatched it off me and I only got to see it again three days later.
Kimble Bent is a retelling of James Cowan’s 1911 biography The Adventures Of Kimble Bent. Bent was American by birth. Bored by his own country he emigrated to England, where in a snap decision he joined the army and eventually ended up as a soldier in the Taranaki land wars. Malcontent with army life, he deserted and gave himself up to and consequently joined forces with the Taranaki Maori.
The story is told in a style reminiscent of manga comics. In addition, short sections with historical background information, back story and forays into the local fauna are interwoven with a fast paced action filled recount of Bent’s life among the Maori.
In a media environment more and more determined by visual content, a graphic novel is a good vehicle for conveying history in a way that will capture modern audiences more than, say, a purely factual, written account would.
The illustrations, as they are laid out on the page, however, make the story a bit hard to follow (my husband agrees). You never quite know in what order to read the panels. Grosz employs a technique called scraperboard, where a white ceramic surface is covered with a layer of black ink, which is then scraped off to reveal the picture. This makes the pages very dark and devoid of colour, adding gravity to the story.
Overall, an interesting story etched into the impressionable veneer of history in the shape of one giant moko. An important book and a piece of art, which could have done with a bit more consideration for the reader. Target readership? Teenagers and husbands, I suppose.
Reviewed by Melanie Wittwer, Facebook fan.
Kimble Bent. Malcontent
by Chris Grosz
(Random House New Zealand)