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Baraka and Black Magic in Morocco
By Rick Smith
Published by Alternative Comics; $14.95 USD

One of the creators of the extraordinary Shuck turns to autobiography, detailing his travels in Morocco during a period in his life where, Smith states in his introduction, he was "burned out on America." Smith's travels, and thus the events depicted in the book, took place before the paradigm-changing apocalypse of September 11th, 2001; again quoting the introduction, Smith notes that "If the book's events took place after the 9/11 attacks, our travels would have told a different story."

As it is, Baraka and Black Magic in Morocco isn't so much a story as a series of events, highly reminiscent of Craig Thompson's Carnet de Voyage in its depiction of privileged Americans aimlessly exploring ancient cultures, learning little more than that the locals will rip you off if you aren't careful.

Readers of Shuck won't be surprised to find that Smith's approach is a bit more metaphysical, though -- in the course of the novel he and his wife (and Shuck co-creator) Tania smoke plenty of drugs and seem to have a much trippier time of it than Thompson did on his comic book adventure. Scenes set under the desert sky at night or featuring exotic cats hint at the strange sense of wonder explicit on every page of Shuck, but more often Baraka disappoints with its lack of direction or sense of narrative purpose.

I hate to invoke Carnet de Voyage again, but just like the year's other "What I Did on My Vacation" graphic novel, Smith doesn't so much bring his story to a conclusion as he does stop making the book. I had no sense that I had learned much from his journey (except, you know, about the locals ripping off the tourists), and mostly Baraka made me long for more Shuck. Grade: 3.5/5

-- Alan David Doane



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