Review – Xoc: The Journey of a Great White

Comic-Con is full of pleasant surprises. Example: While wandering the floor and visiting the Oni Press booth, I came across the graphic novel Xoc: The Journey of a Great White by Matt Dembicki. The book intrigued me, since my job revolves around the teaching of marine science and conservation. I purchased it and was rewarded with an entertaining, well-informed, and conservation-aware tale of one of the ocean’s most well-known but least-understood predators.

Xoc (pronounced “shock”, an ancient Mayan word for “demon fish” and possible origin of the work “shark”) compiles in a hardcover volume a series of comics published by Dembicki over the last several years, all comprising a single narrative. The story follows Xoc, a 17-foot great white, as she migrates some 2,300 miles from her feeding grounds at California’s Farallon Islands to the warmer waters of Maui to give birth. Joined by an injured loggerhead sea turtle following the same migratory route, Xoc encounters many exotic sea creatures along the way, from deep-sea anglerfish to a sperm whale locked in combat with a giant squid. She also struggles to find prey to sustain her through the journey and deals with threats both natural–such as defensive dolphins and aggressive killer whales–to man-made–such as islands of marine debris and shark-finning boats.

The book is more than just an illustrated nature documentary, though. Dembicki gives Xoc and her turtle companion dialogue to help build their personalities (insomuch as a huge shark can have personality), and builds pathos for the characters so that I really cared about seeing them reach their destination and felt a sense of urgency when they were in peril. And if you’re any of my coworkers, the ending–though well set-up–will likely give you a serious case of sadface. It’s visually interesting, too: Not only is the marine life well-drawn and true-to-life, the panels are divided and arranged creatively so that, during those long stretches of journey when there isn’t much action and the narration captions take over, the pages are still visually intriguing and draw the eye to the artwork.

What struck me most about Xoc was the accuracy of the scientific information and the conservation topics interwoven throughout. Dembicki obviously did his homework: Xoc detects the weak electrical charges generated by other animals; She seeks out the weakest prey; She navigates by the sun and by the earth’s magnetic fields. The man-made threats she and her turtle companion face are very real: The wasteful practice of finning–removing the valuable fins while throwing the rest of the shark back to die–kills tens of millions of sharks annually. Masses of marine litter such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch entangle and are ingested by marine life, and leach harmful chemicals into the water. Loggerheads and other sea turtles mistake drifting plastic bags for their jellyfish prey and ingest them, impacting their digestive systems and eventually killing them. At the end of the book Dembicki covers these and other conservation topics, including the Shark Conservation Act signed into law by President Obama last year, and provides sources for more information on sharks and their conservation.

Xoc not only entertains, it educates. What’s more, it encourages comic book readers to learn and care about marine ecosystems and the animals that live there. And for a medium generally known for superhero stories, that’s pretty fantastic. Xoc was available at Comic-Con but is officially released July 25th, at which point you can order it from Oni Press. Or you can preorder it now from Amazon.

Additional Xoc links:

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