It is rare to stumble across a cultural touchstone as it is being carved from marble. It is rare to find something so potentially important you know in your gut that it will inform cultural conversations from here on out. However, that’s exactly what you get when you encounter the story of the Sangerye family and their fight against supernatural forces seeking our destruction. That’s what you get when you pick up Bitter Root #1.

Family Matters

The comic, written by David F. Walker and Chuck Brown, drawn by Sanford Greene, colored by Greene and Rico Renzi, and lettered by Clayton Cowles, opens in the full bloom of the Harlem Renaissance: 1924. And the charm, wit, soul, and vibrancy you expect from that period is captured fully, starting on the first page.

The Sangerye family has taken the task of dealing with two Jinoo, humans corrupted by a mysterious force and turned into beastly monstrosities. The women of the family, Mama Etta and Blink, labor to brew an antidote.  Meanwhile, the men, Berg and Cullen, work on subduing the creatures. However, these gendered roles may not be as ironclad as traditionally thought.

By the issue’s end, the reader becomes aware of a foreboding threat on the horizon of the Sangerye’s world. The daily hurdles the family faces both as monster hunters and blacks in the 20s are even more intriguing to witness.

Walker and Brown present a lot of mysteries in Bitter Root #1. Nevertheless, they expertly give the reader just enough information to get invested and come back for more. I must note that the story pacing is a tad slow. Although that detail is forgivable when considering the creators of the comic are crafting a fresh ethnogothic landscape.

A Rich Shade of New

To bring this fresh landscape alive, Sanford Greene and Rico Renzi bring their A-game and then some. Greene and Renzi infuse the majority of Bitter Root #1 with a striking palette of magenta and violet hues. This creates strong artistic cohesion as well as simply produces a gorgeous and jazzy book. Not to mention, their choice of palette directly references the deep pink and lavender colors of real bitterroot.

Besides this incredible care given to color, Greene wonderfully crafts unique and interesting designs for every character displayed. In addition, he makes sure to render a believable 20s era Harlem in order to complete the reader’s immersion. In short, Greene distinctly captures the look and feel of the period and mixes it with supernatural steampunks in his own gritty, kinetic style to produce a visual spectacle.

Bitter Root #1: Real Talk

This is one of those comics that you know is going to be big. When reading Bitter Root #1, you can’t help but consider the presence of racism at the time of the setting. That is exactly what the creators want. There is an afterword at the end of the comic by Professor John Jennings, an Eisner-award-winning artist, and scholar. His statement reads almost like a dissertation, but that is because he taps into the true importance of Bitter Root.  

To agree and echo what Jennings said, Bitter Root uses the genre of horror and Gothic literature to tackle a monster we rarely desire to talk about but desperately need to: racism.  

Bitter Root taps into the spirit of books like Kindred by Octavia E. Butler and movies like Get Out and Sorry to Bother You. What solidifies Bitter Root’s importance is that it brings this creative take on this crucial conversation to the medium of comics. To be fair, other comics have focused on racism before, but Bitter Root comes at it with such ferocious freshness that we are compelled to stop and look anew.  

From fantastically fun characters like Berg the brainy brawn (who is the most well-spoken fictional character I have seen in years), to the mesmerizing mystery that is the Jinoo and Sangerye connection, Bitter Root #1 is a high recommendation. Hop on board at the beginning of this story that is sure to be talked about for years to come.

Bitter Root #1 by David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, Sandford Greene, Rico Renzi, and Clayton Cowles
Sangerye Certified
Bitter Root #1 bursts onto the scene with a gripping steampunk, gothic narrative that tackles one of the biggest "monsters" in history.