In Review: SAM – After Man

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SAM – After Man is the first in a four-part post-apocalyptic tale of teenagers versus robots written by Richard Marazano and illustrated by Xiao Shang, and the book that won the Best Teenage Album prize at Angouleme in 2012.

It is the not too distant future where, for a decade or more, sentient robots have hunted down the human population. Humanity survives as groups of teens living in underground tunnels, venturing out only to quickly scavenge from the remains of the surface buildings before the robots locate and attack them. However on one such scavenging mission when the robots appear and the scavengers scatter, Ian trips and is at the mercy of a robot which, to his surprise, does not fire on him. The robot, which has the letters SAM on its body, is attacked by Ian’s friends with a rocket-propelled grenade and is left damaged while the humans escape. Intrigued by the SAM robot that did not kill him, Ian returns to it during his next scavenging trip to the surface and, to the horror of his friends, attempts to fix the machine.

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Writer Richard Marazano may not be that familiar a name even amongst regular Cinebook readers but he was the writer of their excellent Chimpanzee Complex, a critically acclaimed (both here on downthetubes and elsewhere) 2001: A Space Odyssey type of tale that ran over three books. With After Man Marazano returns to near future science-fiction and spends his time fleshing out his characters rather than the background to the world they live in.

This is one of two post-apocalyptic series that Cinebook have recently begun, the other being the less violent and more childish Alone. Inevitably there is a certain amount of familiarity in SAM with things like Terminator, Falling Skies, The Matrix, Transformers and others, as well as a certain amount of illogic such as bands of teens still finding enough scavenged food to survive on in a single city more than ten years after civilisation broke down. The band of teen characters would also suggest that the original French series was originally aimed squarely at the “young adult” market of The Hunger Games, Twilight and their ilk, and Cinebook do class it was a 12+ title.

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Yet for me the book survives all this due to Xiao Shang’s lovely detailed artwork. There is a touch of manga in the way he represents the teenagers (much in the same way that Alone uses a humour art style for its children) but this doesn’t distract for the overall design of the book. His designs for the various types of robots introduced in this first book as well as his devastated city are impressive. The dark claustrophobia of the tunnels contrasts well with the bright open spaces of the ruined streets helped along by the script’s initially counter-intuitive idea that the teens only scavenger during daylight hours – the robots can see as well in the dark as in the light because of their thermal sensors so at least in the daylight the teens can also see.

The book is presented in English at full bande dessinee size rather the US size that Cinebook would normally print their more adult titles and SAM doesn’t just deserve it, it needs it. One thing that does strike the reader on the initial viewing let alone reading is the small size of the font used, and what follows from that is the comparatively small speech-bubbles that contain that small font. A reduction from French to American page sizes would have left SAM difficult to read, but the benefit to the readers is that we get to see the art at the size it was designed to be at.

SAM – After Man combines a strong script and strong artwork in a larger format book that is as worthy of attention as its writer’s previous Chimpanzee Complex series.

• There are more details of SAM on the Cinebook website. The second book in the SAM series, Robot Hunters, is due to be published on 19th March 2015

• There are more details of the original French publications of SAM at the Dargaud website

• There are more details of writer Richard Marazano work on his website

• There are more details of artist Xiao Shang on Lambiek Comiclopedia

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