‘Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat:’ Graphic Novel Review

Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat was the first published novel of Andrez Bergen, author of such works as Who Is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa and the Bullet Gal comic series. The post-apocalyptic, dystopian, sci-fi noir world in which the story takes place has been a continual presence in much of his work since then, with characters, themes, settings, and plot points providing influence throughout his oeuvre. Now, Bergen has taken that first book and adapted it into graphic novel form.

Most of the world was cataclysmically destroyed by a virus 15 years ago. Now, the only habitable place left on Earth is Melbourne, Australia, and it’s not exactly in the best of shape either. Controlled by the Hylax Corporation, run by CEO Wolram Deaps, the city is rundown, overcrowded, and living in constant fear of the current threat: Deviants.

The story follows several characters, most of whom are part of a group called Seekers. It’s their job to round up these Deviants and take them to the Hospital for treatment—which is a much more ominous fate than it sounds. Our main protagonist is Seeker Floyd Maquina, whose own wife was taken away a few years ago, sending him into a drunken spiral of self-loathing and self-destruction.

The comic is done in a classic noir style, complete with the traditional, hard-boiled, first-person narration. The artwork uses digital photo manipulation to create a gritty, black-and-white look, a technique also employed in Bergen’s other gritty noir saga, Bullet Gal; however, though the style is the same, Bergen uses it to create a very different environment in TSMG. The occasional use of color and the inclusion of things like logos and advertisements help to drive home the dirty, dystopian nature of their surroundings by giving it a bit of a Blade Runner feel.

Even aside from the artwork and the narration, the noir influences on both the story and the comic are readily apparent. Several classic noir films are referenced directly, including The Third Man and The Maltese Falcon, and plenty of others are subtly referenced or given homage throughout.

There are also some subtle references to Bergen’s other works, for those who are familiar with them. There are brief mentions of characters and elements from Who Is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, Bergen’s superhero novel, released last year. And, among the collection of old magazines in an office waiting room is an issue of Bergen’s anthology comic, Tales to Admonish. These inside references are a staple of Bergen’s work. Some of them are integral to the plot, others are just for fun. Either way, though, I always enjoy looking for them.

The TSMG graphic novel covers only the first third or so of the original book. There’s not a lot of actual plot yet, mainly just an introduction to the world and the characters. There’s nothing wrong with that, though, as it’s a fascinating world to explore. We break off just as the story starts to get underway. I assume that the remainder of the novel will eventually be adapted in future volumes. Until then, those of us wondering what happens next can always just read the book.

Bergen’s work is always interesting and fun to read, and TSMG is no exception. Considering how much of his body of work makes reference to this world and its characters, it’s particularly interesting, finally, to see the context. If you’re a fan of gritty noir or gritty dystopian sci-fi, you’ll want to pick up Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat.

Both the novel and graphic novel forms of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat are available online, in either print or digital editions, from If? Commix.

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