The Book Stop review,
Cape Community Newspapers -

(courtesy of Cape Community Newspapers)

Can you imagine a South Africa free of crime, fear and poverty? A South Africa so Utopian that police officers are losing their jobs because there is nothing for them to do? Imagine Project H. But like anything so near to perfection, Project H has a dark shadow lurking just around the corner, ready to pounce when you’ve let your guard down.

When writer/artist Brandon Carstens introduces us to Sam Hart, he is a young, God-fearing boy, eager to please his preacher father who appears to be more committed to his community than he is to his own family. But Sam’s mother encourages him to keep the faith, and tries to explain away Sam’s father’s lack of attention.

But the young boy’s life is torn apart when his beloved mother is murdered during an armed robbery. He turns away from the church and decides to devote his life to fighting crime.

Nine years after the robbery, soft-hearted Sam is a rough and tough cop, cleaning up the streets of Cape Town – and falling head over heals for a social worker Cindy Hendricks, who has also devoted her life to fighting crime. Her approach, though, is to work with young children before they are lured into the life of crime.

But, as any protagonist has to, Sam experiences more devastation when Cindy is murdered after they’ve been married for five years.

Cindy’s murder, however, would not have been so devastating, had it not been the first violent crime committed in many years. In the five years that Cindy and Sam had been married, South Africa had undergone a major transformation brought about by Project H and its leader, Jasper King. As the country becomes enraptured by Project H, Sam starts to unravel the ugly truth behind the murder – and makes a shocking discovery about the project that was supposed to save the world.

Though predictable at times, Project H provides entertaining reading, with illustrations done “by the book”. The artist clearly has a talent for expressing himself graphically, but the images feel controlled, almost academic, and I would’ve liked to feel that the artist had at some point just let go and allowed the illustrations to become one with the story.

What I did like about the illustrations, though, is the traditional grid-style layout, which makes this graphic novel – not comic book – easy to read and the story easy to follow without making the reader feel overwhelmed by wild and “page consuming” graphics.

Carstens has done well to incorporate elements of Cape Flats vernacular and landscapes, immediately recognisable in his bold and many times familiar story. As someone who has grown up in the Cape, I usually feel a sense of discomfort when I read books set in Cape Town. Not so with Project H. I found that there was just the right balance between reality and imagination, and it is clear the writer, himself, is in touch with life on the ‘Flats.

Project H has a lot of drama, some twists and turns, a couple of surprises, and also reflects the importance of religion in the lives of many who live in impoverished conditions. It is being punted as the first (book length) graphic novel by a South African writer, and is supported by a comprehensive online stash of information about the project, the author and where to find this novel. Through you can read about the characters, join the Facebook group, contribute to the blog and read reviews of the book.

This first-time author has self-published Project H and he deserves a thumbs-up for his creative marketing efforts and tenacity. Chantel Erfort.

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