Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat
by Andrez Bergen
Australian writer and author Andrez Bergen has taken the task of adapting his novel, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat into the graphic novel format. The story is a rather unique one, taking place in a future-Melbourne city where the landscape of Earth has changed. A dystopian story, for sure, the graphic novel adaptation of the same name follows a few characters using a very interesting visual style. Bergen, responsible for the art, utilizes existing photos and other images to pair with his existing story. The final result is curious, indeed, and Bergen’s adaptation has a lot to offer with a few setbacks.
In its opening sequence, readers learn that Mr. Wolfram’s daughter, Corinne, has gone missing and he demands that the best man be put on the job. It is a sequence that feels of a different era, like an old detective drama, and Bergen strikes a tone immediately. Equally notable in the opening pages is the art style that is being employed in this graphic novel. Rather than utilizing a traditional model of having an artist or team or artists tackle the story’s visuals, Bergen is his own artist. Initially, the format of the art seems somewhat reminiscent of Jonathan Hickman’s earlier works including Nightly News wherein the art is more of graphic design. Silhouettes, narration boxes and digital effects fill the page. Quickly, though, the technique Bergen is using feels closer to something inspired by Andy Warhol and Banksy, or even Thierry Guetta. Taking on the concept of splicing together existing images, photos and text, then altering and distorting them digitally, the concept is certainly admirable and makes for a distinct final product worth seeing even if it does not work for the individual reader as a functional mode for sequential art.
The overall world of Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat is complex. Bergen’s novel, as it is explained in the foreword, deals with a society in which certain individuals exist within a dome, protected from another world. Seekers are employed by the government with the sole purpose of seeking out and dealing with Deviants. These Devs, as well as Seekers who have defected, are threatened with hospitalization, a fate that is only mentioned but never explored. The story mostly focuses on a man named Floyd Manqueria and his life in this new environment. The style of the book, sourced from a novel, is very heavy on the exposition, and readers will spend a lot of time on pages working through it all. As a result, and combined with the choices made for how the visual portion of the story is depicted, there are a number of sequences in the book that feel very weighed down. Bergen certainly has a number of great ideas, but the delivery is not always successful.
An example of a great idea not much explored is that of the concept of “hospitalization.” Bergen hints at the threat a few times under different circumstances and it, filled with the dystopian landscape he has created, conjures a variety of terrifying possibilities. While such concepts can be introduced without being shown and maintain effectiveness, there is too little done with such a rich concept for it to feel well incorporated into the fold. At the same time, the overall narrative of Mountain Goat falls short. A number of threads are introduced, including a mandated assessment, referred to as “the test,” the mystery of Floyd’s wife, and a case that two other Seekers are working. Each offers the promise of great concepts and the tone he maintains throughout is equally strong. However, most of these ideas feel incomplete as the story concludes.
It is hard to tell exactly what Bergen is trying to say or accomplish with this story. He, himself, admits that the adaptation only depicts the first portion of the novel. This could be attributed to why so much of the graphic novel feels like open threads. At the same time, Bergen has chosen a very distinct and different approach to how he has created the visual aesthetic of the story. This technique, while impressive for its effort and creativity, leads to problems in identifying individual characters or following a sequence. As a result, while Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat has a number of intriguing proposals, from story elements to its own construction, the sum of the parts does not match the potential of those individual ingredients.