Hundreds of comics come out every week. The vast majority of them get lost in the flood of issues that hit the shelves and our screens. People don’t read these pulls, they get through them. Only the rare title achieves emotional resonance and remains in our collective consciousness after we put down the issue. Those that stick with us past their 15 minutes of fame deserve to be examined to find out what made them do, how did the creators do it, and why are they important? These Savage Shores Vol. 1 is one of those stories. It is a phenomenal and collaborative effort to synthesize historical, cultural, and philosophical elements in a story about our own humanity.
These Savage Shores is an important story because of where it takes place and the people in it. This is a book that largely takes place in India during a period of English expansion and colonialism. You’d be hard-pressed to find another comic that contains even a single of those elements, but These Savage Shores contains all of them. This book speaks to an identity that very few others are able to in a way that very few even try to do. With These Savage Shores, there are people in this world who have finally found a book that speaks to them and about them from a creative team that largely shares their identity, and that is a very special thing. I will point you to these excellent These Savage Shores #4 and #5 reviews by AIPT’s very own Ritesh Babu, where he speaks to that experience a lot better than I could, and provides an excellent breakdown of those two issues.
The world of These Savage Shores is both far away and incredibly close to home. For many of us in this day and age, 18th century colonialism in India is as far away as outer space. It’d be hard to find someone who could immediately relate, and yet when a privileged diplomat it sent away after committing a horrific crime instead of facing his wrongdoings, you feel angry because you’ve seen it happen. When you see a character struggle every day to hide a part of themselves that exists, does it hit close to home? When you see a young boy lose the only companion he’s ever had, are you reminded of someone? When you feel the cost of victory take a piece of one’s soul, are you reminded of a particular time? This is not our world. This is not our story. And yet we are affected.
These Savage Shores Vol 1. sticks around in our collective consciousness because it is able to fearlessly speak about the monsters that we fear hide within our souls. How easy would it be to be Alain Pierrefont, the character many of us thought, maybe even hoped, would be the story’s protagonist, and not care? Alain has conceded to the monster within him and lives a carefree, albeit damned, life. His epistolary narration shows a man who feels he can be free in a place he views as more savage and uncaring. “It speaks to my nature, this place,” he writes because he sees this new land as unrestrained, but Ram V, Sumit Kumar, Vittorio Astone, and Aditya Bidikar make it clear how false this presumption truly is. After all, the restrictions of the grid never actually disappear. No, many of us are not Alain Pierrefont. We cannot be. We must not be. Instead we are Bishan and wage a constant, unrelenting, daily war against the monster that lies inside. We impose rules, laws, and restrictions to restrain us inside our own grid. We’ve always done so. These Savage Shores takes a lot of imagery we might recognize through Christianity and presents it in a new light. After all, many ancient texts have written that we are born sinned and that life is a quest for redemption. We put on masks to hide the world from parts of ourselves. Bishan is this war, this myth, personified. The war that take place inside himself is not just a spiritual one, but a physical one as well, and because he is immortal, it never ends. And so through Bishan, These Savage Shores Vol. 1 depicts the natural struggle inside us all reflected back upon ourselves and asks why? Why do we fight?
Kumar and Astone’s art style is vital to the messages and themes in These Savage Shores Vol 1. The book is simultaneously formalist and naturalist. The 9-panel grid represents the restrictions we put on ourselves as part of the war within us all. In the distinguished, western city of London, the grid exerts it’s largest presence. It is there where Alain feels the most restrained and where Astone’s use of dark, blue-gray shadows, purple skies, and natural flame as light contrasts best with the white gutters. It is there where they feel most like a cage. Notice, however, when Alain arrives in India, the grid doesn’t go away. The atmosphere and nature of the book changes, but the structure does not. The struggle within ourselves is not an English one or a western one, but a deeply human one. It is here where we are also introduced to the struggle against the monsters of our world on a macroscopic scale. For it is not just Bishan’s struggle that is reflected upon the reader, but the larger struggle between India and colonialist England as well.
Calicut is in turmoil. In the eyes of the England and the East India Company, Calicut is the place where the monster hides. It is the next place they must regulate on their conquest towards prosperity, but Ram V and the rest of the creative team are quick to turn that on its head. For it is the England, the invaders, that are the true monsters. They put on the mask of government and only unleash their violent selves in a place where the general public can’t see. There’s nothing monstrous about a culture and a people that embrace this deeply human struggle and express it in ways we aren’t used to. England is looking to eradicate the monster, but their pursuit of joy and prosperity has cost them the very thing they are trying to save, their souls. Calicut, and Bishan specifically, embrace the battle. They understand and accept that the monster can never be completely destroyed, only maintained. They rely on each other for companionship and love and face the battle very openly. It is Bishan who says it best when he states, “Joy is fleeting and the immortal only have the truth for lasting company.” Bishan, Kori, and Vikram the prince seem to have embraced this natural struggle, and this appears to be portrayed visually through the scenes of nature that Kumar and Astone scatter throughout the pages. The pacing echoes these visuals as, like a leopard, These Savage Shores takes its time delivering its message, reveling in quiet, personal conversation until it is able to poignantly pounce in a burst of action. A leopard hunts. An antelope grazes. A monkey screams. It is nature, as is the choice we must make of who we are going to become.
This choice is an intimate one, and V, Kumar, Astone, and Bidikar do not shy away from that. Epistolary writing is one of the most vulnerable forms because there is either no or a singular direct audience. The writer is pouring out their soul on the page to a trusted confidant or no one at all, and as readers, we are privy to feelings that weren’t intended to be shared, and Bidkar does a great job of giving these letters a sense of privacy even as this book is being published for all to read. As a result, there’s a rawness that cannot be duplicated within the narration of These Savage Shores, and that raw feeling is matched or perhaps exceeded only by the visuals. Perhaps more than any other title in recent memory, characters and animals are constantly posed looking at the reader. This is Kumar and Astone’s way of opening up and letting you into this world. The eyes are the window to the soul, and the art makes sure you see that. It is only when masks are put on, physical and metaphorical, that the characters look away. At the same time, this book is peering into our soul, as readers, and asking about our struggle. Are we Alain, the leopard or Bishan after he has just gone to war, or are we Prince Vikram, Kori, or Bishan after he has finally made a choice? Do we embrace the struggle or run from it?
Ultimately then, if this is a struggle we all face, if we are all fighting a battle within ourselves, then why did this story need to be shared? Why did These Savage Shores Vol. 1 remain in our collective consciousness and achieve emotional resonance? Well, perhaps it’s because we often fight our battles alone. In a world of zealous oversharing, we still mask the struggle that really matters. By bringing this story to light, V and Kumar take off Bishan’s mask in hopes that you will remove yours as well. It is time we stop hiding piece of ourselves that is ingrained in our nature. Within this struggle is a choice, and for millennia of his immortal life, Bishan did not acknowledge it. If Bishan’s journey should teach you anything, it is that we are exactly who we choose to be. We must choose to fight, and we can do so inwardly, in solitude, or we can do so out in the open with those who carry the same struggle. And why must we fight? Why does anyone fight? Because it is in our nature, and because the rewards – companionship, love, and human connection – are priceless. With These Savage Shores Vol. 1, Ram V, Sumit Kumar, Vittorio Astone, and Aditya Bidikar told a tale of humanity and vulnerability that clearly tapped into the public consciousness They took off their masks. Now the only question that remains is, will you take off yours?