Review: Darwin: An Unexpected Journey (Nobrow Press)

Fabian Grolleau and Jérémie Royer’s follow up to Audubon: On The Wings of the World, continues the same beautiful and thought provoking look at the history of a prominent 18th century scientist, but this time it’s the slightly more well known Charles Darwin whose life and learning comes under the microscope in Darwin: An Unexpected Journey.


Publisher: Nobrow Press
Writer: Fabian Grolleau
Artist: Jérémie Royer
Price: £16.99 from Nobrow.net


Chronicling the life of the pre-eminent naturalist is no easy task, and so Grolleau and Royer have chosen to focus on the early part of his life and his journey on the HMS Beagle during which he began to formulate his ground breaking theory of evolution. This allows them to create a very personal and intimate look at a man learning about the world around him.

Darwin is cast as both an impartial observer taking in the world around him, but also one whose enlightened gaze is reflected back on his own society, looking at how a civilised world can be still be as flawed and judgmental as a dosed savage one. This is especially prevalent when it comes to subjects such as religion or slavery and is best exemplified in Darwin’s dispute with captain Fitzroy as Darwin’s progressive views are at odds with his traditionalist captain. This moral complexity allows Darwin: An Unexpected Journey to be a very subtle and thoughtful read as it avoids a lot of the lazy colonial cliches a book like this could have. It’s a long way from being an Arthur Conan Doyle-esque romp and instead uses Darwin’s pursuit of knowledge as a narrative pathway for his journey.  The slow development of his theory and his understanding of the world around him allows Grolleau and Royer to avoid too many biopic light bulb moments, although the scenes on the Galapagos Islands, where he notices the different species of birds and tortoise, are the closest to that moment. However by at point they have earned this cliche and it needs it.

Darwin: An Unexpected Journey

As with Audubon Jérémie Royer’s artwork is utterly sublime and perhaps even more gorgeous this time around. His classical Euro style has the expressive small eyes of a classic Bande Desinée and are mixed with some beautifully rendered landscapes, seascapes that are truly breath taking. There is even beauty in the mundane moments of Darwin on board ship or collecting species, but perhaps the most extraordinary pages are the chapter breaks which feature stunning full pages image of maps charting Darwin’s route. And also a couple of splash pages which really showcase Royer’s eye for detail when rendering the animals. One involving an ocean full of sea creatures heading towards the beagle and also a double page spread featuring a specimen collection of beetles and bugs are particularly incredible, but they are not almond and the whole book is a real treat to look st.

While Audubon was a delightfully beautiful curiosity, Darwin: An Unexpected Journey feels like a much more accessible and so more rewarding read for a wider audience. While both tell stories about driven and focused men of history striving for an impossible drew,. Darwin’s place in popular culture makes his journey much more recognisable.e and while the individual moments may not be known to all, the journey of the Beagle certainly should. With the story only covering these early years, we would love to see them return to tell a story of Darwin in his later years, but now we must appreciate this fine specimen for what it is. A truly wondrous discovery and a sublime and thoughtful book of utter brilliance.

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