The Traveller by Neil Gibson (Writer), Tasos Anastasiades (Illustrator), Jan Wijingaard (Colourist), and Hass Otsmane-Elhaou (Letterist)
Tpub, ebook, available for pre-order
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Iosef was suicidal, a man with nothing to live for, ready to end it all, when a being from another time and place comes through a portal. Surprised by technology unlike anything he has seen before, Iosef kills the being and takes his things. Or at least, he tries to. A gauntlet the being was wearing attaches itself to Iosef and won’t come off. Instead it takes him on a journey to places Iosef never thought possible. Iosef learns to control the gauntlet, to influence where it takes him and uses it to build a better life for himself. But this power comes with its own problems, the gauntlet is killing Iosef slowly. Now desperate to live, Iosef asks the gauntlet to take him where he can be healed, where they speak his language, and where he will be wanted. The gauntlet takes him right into a rebellion. Yes, the people there can speak his language, and they have the power to heal him, but only if he helps them overthrow a dictator. Iosef agrees and learns a lot more about power than his new friends could ever have wanted him to.
This graphic novel is a futuristic alt-reality story about the rise of Joseph Stalin from humble backgrounds, one of the most powerful and dangerous men in the Soviet Union in his time. Through his travels with the gauntlet, Iosef learns much about himself and what he actually wants. When he asks the gauntlet to take him somewhere people will be happy to see him, the revolutionists are happy to see him, but when he is faced with the dictator he’s supposed to over throw, the dictator is also happy to find a like-minded individual. Iosef is not a hero in the traditional sense of the word, he is a man of action, and he looks down on a group of people who will not help themselves.
Anastasiades illustrations are clever. Gritty and realistic, is some places it is difficult to view, and yet it’s not gratuitous or superfluous. There is a point to everything in the panel which leaves some panel with minimal detail because the focus is on the power play between the characters, and others are gorgeous, filled with symbolism about life and death. The colour scheme is muted which fits the mood and moral of the story. The use of reds and blues to heighten tension or restrict characters gives the reader the backstory a traditional novel would fill with pages of prose. Apparently simple, but such effective use of colouring is a real skill.
I found The Traveller benefitted from two readings. The first to understand the shape of the story and then the second to uncover the nuances you can only find with hindsight. Both readings were satisfying for different reasons, and as always with Gibson’s work, he and his team pinned human behaviour to the page perfectly and laid the uglier parts on the page that others might have shied away from.