Even though Steve Lieber is a Portland-based cartoonist, I met him all the way down in San Diego last year at ComicCon. I immediately felt a connection with his work; his emphasis on location as a character in the graphic novel Whiteout really hooked me. He realized Antarctica is not just a cool place as backdrop; he made it integral to the story (a murder mystery). After reading part 1 of Whiteout, I immediately got part 2 and was just as taken with the purposefully messy & white art.
When I gave Steve a copy of my Falling Rock book collection, he reciprocated with a new story he was working on with Jeff Parker: Underground. Underground is the story of a cave system in Kentucky and the park rangers whose job it is to protect it. While my natural affinity for caves drew me in initially, it was the art and story that kept me reading. The state park is under pressure from local business to ‘open up’ the cave for tourism; however, the rangers are skeptical that letting hordes of visitors into the cave will cause irreparable harm to its delicate ecosystem.
Park Ranger Wesley Fischer immediately endeared herself to me, for obvious reasons. Besides being a pretty outdoorsy girl, Ranger Fischer is a complete character from the start. You can feel her love for her work, coupled with a natural stubbornness that is exceedingly cute.
The story is propelled by two misunderstandings: Ranger Fischer’s disgust that tourism dollars may be put ahead of a natural wonder, and the townspeople’s irritation that a new park ranger would want to hinder them from making a living. It is a common debate in towns that don’t have much in the way of commerce or industry and want to exploit their scenic locations for tourism. How do you balance nature and people?
Don’t imagine for one minute that this is a story devoid of action. Lieber and Parker spin a tale so compelling that I read the entire collected volume – 125 pages – in one go. Murder, mystery, suspense. And let’s not forget fish without eyes and BATS.
Still not entirely sure you’re interested? Well, they’ve generously put up the first chapter FOR FREE online. Read it and decide for yourself.