by Roger Ash
When I first read the preview (which you can read here) we received from Oni Press for the original graphic novel Xoc: The Journey of a Great White by Matt Dembicki, I was intrigued. That’s hardly surprising as I’ve always been a fan of nature programs since I was a child and routinely watched Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, National Geographic specials, and the occasional True Life Adventure on the Wonderful World of Disney. The folks at Oni were happy to let me read the rest of the story and see where the adventures of Xoc would take her.
Xoc is not strictly a nature program on paper. Xoc, as well as a few of the other sea creatures she encounters, are anthropomorphized and given a voice and motivations. However, they still behave as naturally as possible and Dembicki does a fine job of drawing the animals realistically as well.
The book is basically a road story as we follow Xoc from the Farallon Islands off the coast of California to the waters surrounding Hawaii. Along the way, she gets a traveling companion in a loggerhead turtle who is also swimming to Hawaii. Why they’re headed there is revealed in the story itself. Their journey is a good vehicle for Dembicki to show the wonders and the dangers of the ocean, both natural and man-made.
The story begins as Xoc joins other Great White Sharks in feasting on seals in the Farallons, but soon she feels the urge to head elsewhere. And a dangerous and wonderful trip it is. While Great Whites may seem to be at the top of the food chain, they have enemies as large as orcas and as small as parasites. Even dolphins can prove to be a menace. There are also plenty of man-made gauntlets to be run from ships to floating islands of garbage. Dembicki builds up plenty of tension so you aren’t certain if either Xoc or the turtle will reach their destination. There is also plenty of majesty as the pair encounter other denizens of the deep. I won’t spoil the ending but I will say that while it was set up, it still caught me completely off guard.
I really enjoyed Xoc: The Journey of a Great White. The story is engaging and moves along briskly. The adventure is exciting, the characters seem real, and the art gives you an honest view of sea life. Some sequences may be a bit intense for some younger readers, but the book is well suited to all ages and may even engender a deeper appreciation for the wonders of undersea life. It was obvious to me that Dembicki really cares about the sea creatures he’s writing about, but the story never gets preachy; he simply presents the facts and lets the reader decide if the man-made obstacles are good or bad. And the format of the book is perfect for the story, breaking it into a monthly serial would have really disrupted the flow of the story.
If you’re looking for adventure and want something different from well-muscled heroes scantily clad in spandex, Xoc: The Journey of a Great White may well be exactly what you’re looking for. It’s one of those books that shows that comics can be used to tell any type of story; even one about a shark.