Awhile back, I was able to attend the Midwinter conference of the American Library Association and was lucky enough to pick up quite a few books from publishers, both graphic novels and other formats. I have to admit that I made getting free books more of a priority than attending programs since I was feeling very under the weather at the time. Who can say no to free books though, sick or not? One of the books I ended up picking up was a little story called Oyster War by Ben Towle. Both written and illustrated by Ben Towle, it brings up the little known “Oyster Wars” of the late 1800’s in Maryland and Virginia and introduces readers to a loveable crew of misfits determined to stop the pirates from upsetting the delicate balance of the coastal town of Blood’s Haven in the Chesapeake Bay.
Oyster War opens in the late 1800’s, in Blood’s Haven, as Commander Davidson Bulloch is given command of the newly created “Oyster Navy” tasked with eliminating the pirates from New York Bay who are carelessly (and illegally) dredging oysters in order to sell them for exorbitant amounts of money. Commander Bulloch is a no-nonsense, law-abiding gentleman who served in the Confederate Submarine Battery Service during the Civil War. Due to local superstitions and the immense amount of money being offered by the pirates for crew members, Bulloch and his first mate Haynie Holsapple (previously Blood’s Haven’s finest bare-knuckle boxer) don’t exactly have the option of picking the finest of Chesapeake Bay for their mission. Bulloch and Holsapple pull together a band of various misfits as they prepare to go after the worst of the pirates: Treacher Fink. But Fink’s ambitions don’t end at dredging oysters, he has plans for a mysterious entity of the sea said to grant power to any who manage to control him. Commander Bulloch is dismissive of this mystical ability but determined to bring Fink down regardless of his plans. With the support of his crew, it’s up to Bulloch to stop Fink before all of the oysters (and the fragile economy of Blood’s Haven) are gone for good.
Oyster War is not a story that I immediately fell in love with but it’s an amusing and entertaining little adventure a la the old pulp fiction comics of decades ago. Bulloch has a few tics which amused me despite not being a huge fan of the character in general. There wasn’t anything bad about Oyster War, I just never really cared that much about any of the characters so when things start getting hairy, I didn’t feel particularly invested in any of their survival. I did enjoy Bulloch’s tendency to screw up when he was constantly quoting proverbs or wise men and his obstinate refusal to believe in anything magical certainly made things more interesting for him. The other characters were largely forgettable but the action and adventure mostly made up for it. I did really enjoy the coloring done by Towle and the style reminded me very much of a prettier version of Tin-Tin.
While Oyster War won’t be joining my list of favorite indie comics, it’s a fun little pulp adventure that can easily be read in one sitting. It’s perfect for fans of Tin-Tin and similar friendly adventure stories and has enough action and heroics for to keep just about anyone entertained.