Written By Jake Garner
ComiCommand has been fortunate enough to recently steal a look at Andrea Lorenzo Molinari’s, and his son, Roberto Xavier Molinari’s, The Shepherd: Apokatastasis. After demolishing the entirety of the first five issues in one sitting, as some sort of a nut-shelled conclusion, I felt delightfully refreshed. We are always ever grateful for a sneak peek into the workings of those writers that are new to the graphic novel scene, but it is often with the newcomers we get some of the most revitalising story-lines. The Shepherd steps away from the bright lights of the conventional superhero ideology, and instead shines a more personal light upon the comic book genre. So, what is The Shepherd then? Well, it’s composed of fairly individual and delicate pieces, arranged in a way that makes the story immersive and truly heartfelt, both through the writing of the Molinari boys and the artwork of Ryan Showers.
What I don’t want to do is give an in depth description of the story here, as I feel this wouldn’t do the actual book its well deserved justice, and also, much like the protagonist of the story, it should be a personal journey of self discovery, both for the characters in the graphic novel and the reader. What I will provide is a quick synopsis, just to wet the appetite.
The Shepherd follows the life of Professor Lawrence Miller as he struggles to deal with the death of his son following an appalling drug overdose. The rogue Prof. begins to feel encompassed in an inescapable sense of abandonment. Tragically, Miller takes the only option he can see as viable, given the circumstances; suicide, and with it, an opportunity to follow his son into the afterlife. Miller reaches the other side where is confronted by his own father who bestows upon him unimaginable power. Revenge is on the cards for this Professor as he brings havoc upon those who were involved in his son’s death. This is a journey of personal identity that has its roots entwined in tragedy. Dark? Yes, it is, but I get the sense that it is meant to be. There are no flashy capes here, and definitely no masked hero chasing some predictable ‘American Dream’. The Shepherd is ‘raw’ from the outset, and it is precisely this which makes it so refreshing.
After speaking with Andrea, and reading through the foreword to the series, From Nightmare to Dream, it is clear that the writer has drawn inspiration from a number of sources. It is with real, private inspiration that good stories are born. In this foreword, Andrea says, ‘Like most people, I don’t remember my dreams. Even the most vivid, violent or frightening dreams do not stay with me. Like sand through my fingers, they slip away, leaving no trace. This one was different.’ It is with the encouragement of Andrea’s son, Roberto, that he was to turn a garish nightmare into a story that could be shared.
Of course, stories need a creative edge, but a personal invite into the writer’s mind makes that edge sharper. Being an avid fan of Shakespeare, Andrea was able to turn his dream into something of poetic substance. From reading the whole of the first volume, Shakespeare’s influence becomes apparent in the writing. These two sources of inspiration, both the foundation of the story found in the private dreams of Andrea, and his Shakespearean appreciation, work together to create something of an ‘underground showstopper’, per se. Andrea exclaims, ‘I am a fan of William Shakespeare. There is certainly nothing unique about that. Among the many writings attributed to him, Hamlet is my favorite. One particular line come to mind during my darkest moments:
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy
(Hamlet, 1.5. 167-8, Hamlet to Horatio).
To my way of thinking, this is a succinct reminder that, despite humanity’s best attempts, there are many things about the universe that we simply do not know. There are some things that we can’t explain. There is mystery.’
So, what can one expect to take away from The Shepherd? Perhaps the most obvious is the sincere and scrupulous components that can be found within the writing itself. It really does feel as if the writer is revealing the darker side of his mind’s inner workings, alongside that of Lawrence Miller within the story itself. For me, it is this very personal touch which made The Shepherd something truly different. It didn’t come across as another typical weekly comic, filling its quota to keep its readers. The Shepherd is a genuine book everyone should take a look at given the chance. Secondly, the artwork of Ryan Showers compliments the writing in a way that breathes life into the narrative. The bold outlines and plain backdrops really give life to the characters in the foreground. The Shepherd doesn’t need flashy skyscrapers and crazy, fiery chasms in the distance to make it immersive. Heather Breckel, the colourist for the book, has used a whole spectrum of soft tones that give support to the books foundations, that of the dream like state. All in all, though The Shepherd might not be at the top of your reading list, it is important to make sure you add it on somewhere for the future.