Rebirth is a local graphic novel by Red Giant Productions and is distributed by Reach Publishers. The book uses the worn concept of vampires and werewolves but what makes it different is Ryba and Browde’s use of South Africa as a backdrop and a historical figure in the name of Jan van Riebeek and his shenanigans with the Dutch East India Company.
Jan and the director of the VOC are vampires but Jan’s illegal business dealings with werewolves upset the director who banishes him to the refreshment station at the Cape of Goodhope. Jan is upset but once there, he preys on the inhabitants.
The book does not stay in the past but jumps to the present. Johannesburg is the new location and the vampires are not doing as well as they’d like. A deadly virus similar to HIV/AIDS named IDV has ravaged humanity and blood suckers alike. Only four vampires remain on the African continent. The main character in the present is a human named, Westerford Samuels. West is an orphan who works in a bookstore but yearns for more out of life. What Samuels doesn’t know or remember is that as a child he was experimented on by Dr. Eduardo Agosto. Dr. Eduardo was searching for a cure for IDV and used human guinea pigs, Westerford being one of them. All of them, Dr. Agosto, Westerford, the vampires are all tied together and at the center is Samuels.
It’s safe to say that many people are jaded when it comes to vampires and while it seems like a great idea to transpose American and European tales to a South African locale in reality the two worlds don’t mix very well. Vampires and werewolves running around in Johannesburg and Cape Town don’t go down as well as they do in New York or Paris. There are certain aesthetic qualities and cultural codes within these societies that facilitate the exploration of monsters like werewolves and vampires much better than in an African context. It is like writing a tokoloshe tale and using New York as a backdrop; this might work but it would require a great feat of skill to execute. The same applies to stories that would be alien to an African context. Film and literature have also done too much to weld certain environs with particular folklores.
In this regard the story is immediately on the back foot. Other problems are the closeness of Rebirth to films like ‘Underworld’ and the jarring juxtaposition of the past with the present. Smooth, coherent and justified jumps back and forth are never achieved. The past is not explored enough, only sparingly touched on to give birth to the main story in the present. The timing and length between the past and the present is off kilter. There are lengthy moments spent in the present upon which you are made to take a short and dislocated ride back to the past. The present and the past hardly ever seem to pop in or out at the right time. Readers will also note that the San are cast more like the Nguni, a disconcerting portrayal on the writers’ part.
The two main characters are decent. West is adequately written with some endearing qualities that make him likeable. The dialogue between West and his friend Ben is funny and flows quite well. Cassia the vampire also stands out as a main character for her strength and wit. In terms of art, the main issue is the inconsistency. Some panels are fairly well rendered; the smokey, dull tones and semi realistic rendering of characters has some high moments but scan to the next panel and the images take a nose dive, being overly minimalist and deformed.
Reborn has some good spots and is readable, something not many local works achieve. Creating comics is laborious and costly, these and other factors do play a hand in the quality of a work but even with whatever constraints a good story can be told and this one is not as good as it could have been.
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