The first issue of Hardears (2014) is a combination of invocation and reinvention. Having already read the first volume of Heart Man I was already prepared for Clarke’s ability to construct a fresh visual narrative with existing folklore. However, combined with Lynch’s storytelling, Hardears was something simultaneously recognisable and completely different. Lynch and Clarke didn’t just refashion certain characters out of Barbadian folklore, but also refashioned characters and elements from the local landscape and history.
The first issue introduces a cultural “melting pot of all sorts” in the capital of Jouvert Island, Barrington. In the capital there are flying fish adapted to vehicular flight, Avians (flying humanoids), police riding flying sharks, and tall Bearded fig trees (in one of which Union Parliament sits). The Union Parliament with all of the different Guilds is in session, preparing to take action against the sentient Hurricane Gilbert, who is bent on the destruction of the island. Jouvert’s defence against the Hurricane approaching across the Hardears Sea is the Landship, which is described as “…the most powerful means of external and internal defence, able to perform peacekeeping duties to vanquishing attacks by Hurricanes”.
The other part of the tale takes place in Jouvert’s countryside which is “…carpeted with sweet cane, rich in basic vibez, essential to all life…”. Vibez is like energy or chi. Bolo, who appears to be one of the story’s heroes, is so full of vibez that he can cut cane faster than any mechanised cane cutter. He enters the story, his hair sticking out like Akuma’s from Street Fighter, with a cutlass in each hand slicing through a row of sugar cane while the machines trail behind.
Bolo’s supernatural ability is not the only thing that gives the somewhat familiar country landscape an other worldly feel; there is also Duppy, a talking raccoon who pokes fun at Bolo’s failure to attract a young lady’s attention, and a giant field centipede that attacks the same young lady giving Bolo a chance to be a hero and save face from his earlier embarrassment.
However, my favourite character enters the story after disaster has struck and Jouvert Island needs to rebuild. Out of nowhere arrives Mr. Hardin with a top hat, a face that looks like it’s been splashed with white paint and three piece suit offering some kind of dubious salvation.
In Barbadian Harvest Home/Crop Over history Mr Hardin is an effigy dressed a little like a plantation owner and stuffed full of cane trash. He represented hard times and was burned at the end of the celebration. Clarke’s and Lynch’s version exploits the dire need of the island, and eventually shows himself to be a kind of parasite or vampire who feeds on vibez.
At the end of the comic book is a visual glossary entitled ‘The World of Hardears’, which is kind of like a tourist guide book full of points of reference to make it easier navigate the story. Somehow it is strangely appropriate, because Barbados’ main money earner is tourism and the reader is a tourist visiting the Hardears Islands. This clever bit of exposition not only helps the reader to navigate through this first issue, but also provides information that will help in future issues so that Clarke and Lynch can just throw the reader straight into the action.
I did find that the pacing of the story was a bit disorienting; it would have been good to see some more continuity of action from panel to panel. However, overall I think the comic book is pretty cool, I highly recommend it and I would definitely look out for more issues in the future.