It’s rare for me to read a graphic novel that sticks with me long after the cover is closed. That rarity extends even more to the number of times I’ve read a graphic novel and felt my skin crawl by the brutal truth that is on display within the pages. Briggs Land is unlike anything that you will find on the comic shelves today. It tackles a subsection of American culture with a razor’s edge that cuts straight to the bone of the reader and leaves you in awe of the simplicity in which the tale crawls into your head and doesn’t leave. It hangs with you.
Briggs Land on the surface is a simple tale. Families of anti-government nut-jobs have carved out their own piece of land in the middle of America and now the whole thing is on the verge of collapsing as the family squabbles over money, leadership, and power. Sounds simple right? Wrong. There are layers upon layers inside this novel.
The Briggs family is mired down in white nationalism, Nazism, anti-government activities, gun running, murders; money laundering… the list goes on and on. Imagine separatist that have built themselves up to become the mob. There is nothing and no one that they can’t touch. The Brigg’s family influence extends into prisons, government branches, nearby businesses; it’s an underground network of the worst sorts.
At the heart of the story is the newly appointed leader of Briggs Land, Grace. Grace is the devoted wife to former Briggs leader Jim, and who lost her husband and marriage years ago when Jim attempted to assassinate the President. Jim is stuck behind bars of a federal prison, trying to conduct business through his wife. But Grace has had enough of being the middle man and decides that now is the time to cut her husband out of the loop and leave him to rot in jail.
The rest of the novel deals with the fallout of this decision as Grace tries to get her family to fall in line under her leadership, get the criminal underworld to accept her, and deal with her very pissed off soon-to-be ex-husband who has put a hit out on Grace. Oh! And let’s not forget the pair of government agents snooping around trying to build a case against the entire family.
Brian Wood has crafted a piece of American literature that is hopeless in nature and unforgettable. Briggs shines a spotlight on the dark underbelly of extremism that while it mimics humanity, can never be what makes us human. There are no heroes here, only villains and the shades of grey are so thick in the storyline that it chokes out any hope of a colorful world for these characters. They are destined to be lost souls from the first panel.
I could dive into the political and social impact that this story will have, or how it raises some very interesting topics during this current moment in America, but I should leave that too much brighter and well-educated minds.
I will say that this is not a tale to be picked up on a whim. You can’t just mosey your way into Briggs Land; you need to pick this title up with conviction and purpose, because as a reader you will be challenge by the concepts. You will feel tested when you put the book down. This graphic novel is not a piece of entertainment but a challenge to your soul. Those that walk away with disdain for the main characters will not sleep well the next few nights after reading this, and those that are unable or unwilling to recognize the truth in these pages are likely to come to some twisted agreement within themselves that the ends justify the means.
In short; this book will reveal more about you as a person than it will entertain.
The art team adds an added element to the feel of the book. The gritty and dirty nature of the characters pops off the page, yet there are beautiful moments where the environment has an almost peacefulness to it that breaks away from the chaos that is in the rest of the novel. Don’t get too comfortable though, because just when it seems like everything is going well that’s when Chater pulls the rug out from under you with an image of a burning cross, or a dead pet.
Chater also sets a pace that reflects a TV shows like Sons of Anarchy or The Sopranos. The panel and page layout is fast and effective. The characters are well-defined and so well-crafted that you lose yourself in the story; the true mark of a great artist. The success of this story belongs as much to Chater as it does to Wood.
There is no way to sum up this book. It is a graphic novel that will be a timeless reminder of how America deals with those that make a life for themselves on the fringes of society and how the worst of us can twist religion and patriotism into something truly wicked. A tough read, but one that deserves your time and attention.
Final Score: 4 ½ out of 5 stars
Briggs Land TPB
Volume 1: State of Grace
Story: Brian Wood
Art: Mack Chater
Colors: Lee Loughridge and Jeremy Colwell
Letters: Nate Piekos
Publisher: Dark Horse