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Exodus from Egypt

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When I was 11, my Hebrew School teacher gave my class an assignment. We were to try the major players of the Biblical story of Exodus. It was up to that group of fifteen 11 year olds to decide who carried the most blame in the story. Was it the Pharaoh who kept the Israelites captive as slaves? Was it Moses who stood idly by as his former family and people were torn apart by plagues that could not be explained through any science? Was there another entity completely who was to blame for all the death and suffering on both sides?

Even though there was no real right or wrong answer for this class assignment, our little minds could not fathom the concept of ambiguity in a tale that had always been taught to us in such black and white terms. We quickly found the Pharaoh guilty without question and moved onto the next topic of discussion. But no matter how quickly the class decided, something about that assignment had always stuck to me. And whenever the story of the Jews/Israelites exodus from Egypt was brought up, I would hearken back to that week of class when the trial took place. So it was with great interest that I began reading A. David Lewis and mpMann’s The Lone and Level Sands, a tale that intended to show the ambiguities of the famous Biblical story.

The tale at hand is one that follows the well known mythology. It starts with a small prelude, telling of the day Moses left the Egyptian Royal Family after murdering a slave owner. Like most of the story that is to follow, we are told the tale from the side of the man who will be the King of Egypt by the time of the Exodus, Ramses. After this brief prelude, we move ahead a number of years, when Ramses is King, and Moses is returning to the Pharaoh with his brother Aaron, this time to begin his demands of freeing the Israelite slaves from their bondage. For anyone who is even slightly familiar with this famous story, the rest will be familiar. Time and again Moses and Aaron appear before Pharaoh Ramses to plead for freedom. And time and again, for reasons he may not even fully comprehend, Ramses is convinced to say no. What follows are the Biblical Plagues, and a performance some still associate with Charleston Heston.

It goes without saying that the writing of this book was an incredible task for A. David Lewis to take on. To attempt to even humanize someone who has been seen as nothing but a villain is to take on the seemingly impossible. Throughout every telling of this tale in the Judeo/Christian belief system, Pharaoh Ramses is nothing short of evil. He is a man led by hatred and his feelings of superiority. But in Lewis’ hands, Ramses transforms into something more resembling a human being. He is a man madly in love with his wife and beams with pride when around both his son and grandson. But more importantly to the story, he does become a man of ambiguity. Lewis never goes so far as to attempt to make Ramses a truly sympathetic character, and instead portrays him as a man who is a victim of fate and the decisions of those before him; which gives his readers chances to both sympathize and become angered with this Pharaoh.

Likewise, Lewis pulls no punches when portraying Moses and his brother Aaron, although neither is given nearly the face time that Ramses receives. With the tale itself, Lewis holds true to what is accepted as the proper mythology. He paces it incredibly well, never focusing too much on any particular part of the tale. Where most times the story itself is the star of the show, Lewis goes out of his way to make sure it is the humans in the story that are the true focus.

As the artist on this book, mpMann seems to know exactly what is required of him. None of his figures seem overly detailed, yet he manages to generate a great amount of emotion with them. Each of the characters is easily identifiable as well, which can often be a problem with iconic drawings and a smaller page format. Mann makes excellent use of shadows with his ink lines that only serve to assist in creating an effective atmosphere to each panel. And when it is said that Mann purposefully seems to keep his figures and individual characters simplistic, it does not mean he can’t show off with his skills for the splash pages. In fact, it is his lack of detail in some parts that really serves to highlight his skills in others. Like with the shadowing effects, Mann knows exactly which panel needs extra detail and which is better served with simple rendering. If there were two complaints to be made about the artwork, the Israelites look awfully stereotyped and it is somewhat hard to even guess as to the ages of the characters other than one is older than the other. But neither of those complaints could tarnish such a book.

Most impressive of all things with this book, is its page design. Rather than being confined by the smaller pages, Mann makes use of every inch of them. Instead of just simply breaking the page into standard panels, Mann takes many chances and attempts many innovations with panel design, and just like his shadowing and details, Mann knows exactly when to show off. He keeps the book moving swiftly, which can be difficult with little action to use to speed the book up. Perhaps the most impressive bit of storytelling is the use made of the gutters between panels, as no space is wasted at all.

In the end, the only thing holding back this book from reaching the audience it deserves is the fact that no matter how it’s dressed up, it is still a retelling of a famous tale. But when the only real complaint is that I knew the story before reading it, and I still managed to be very impressed while reading it – it’s impossible not to recommend every one to check this one out.

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