Bezkamp is a new sci-fi graphic novel with amazing artwork and a solid story, but it is hampered by accent-laden dialogue.
“How do you read? Do you recognize patterns in front of you, or do you sound out the words in your head?”
This is a question I’ve asked several people after reading the preview copy of Bezkamp, a new graphic novel by Samuel Sattin and Jen Hickman, and it’s one that’s made reviewing the work quite difficult. Honestly, I’m incredibly conflicted about Bezkamp; on one hand, the artwork is phenomenal, and the sci-fi world feels unique and new and drew me in… But then the dialogue kept trying to kick me out.
The story follows Nem, a resident of Bezkamp and self-proclaimed excavator in a world which has lost its history. Though he comes from a family of “waryors,” he doesn’t possess the rage or the “fyre” of his kin. Eventually, his father decides enough is enough, destroys his collection of forbidden knowledge (books), and declares he’ll become a warrior, or he’ll die trying.
Nem’s relationship with his father, his family, and later Janny of the Crig land, was well executed throughout the book. To be honest, almost every story element was handled well. The world building and the sci-fi was excellent, felt original, and the colorful art really drew me in. Other than an ending that felt a bit rushed, the story gets high marks from me.
The problem for me was the dialogue, more specifically the constant use of phonetic accents within the dialogue. Now, if you look at the sample pages here, and you think “I can read that just fine,” then I wholly encourage you to get this work, because this is my sole problem with it.
Unfortunately, for me, it’s also a major one. I don’t read phonetically, and from the informal poll I’ve done, most other people don’t either. Because of that, reading Bezkamp was challenging for me, and made it difficult to get immersed in the world, since I’d constantly have to pull myself out of the world to go, “Wait, what did they just say?”
Louise Harnby, a proofreader, has a wonderful blog post about this exact issue. As she explains, “The best novels make us forget we’re reading them. We’re so immersed in the story that we don’t notice we’re processing words on a page.” She argues that the constant use of a phonetic accent can block the reader from every becoming immersed, and cites this wonderful passage from Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman’s guide How Not to Write a Novel:
“No matter how good an ear you have, and how perfectly you’ve captured it, it soon becomes a task to read. The reader is forced to sound out each word, like somebody studying ESL, and will soon grow impatient. Instead, one or two well-placed words sprinkled throughout are enough to flavour the whole thing.”
And that quote nails it—while, with time, reading Bezkamp got easier as I got accustomed to the style, if the art wasn’t excellent (and I wasn’t reviewing), I’m not sure I would have made it to that stage.
Which, again, is a shame, because I want to love this book. It’s an interesting story. And if it ever gets a reprint where they tone down the dialogue accents, it would be an automatic purchase from me. But, in its current form, I recommend you go to your local comics shop, look at a few pages, and try (to read) before you buy.