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Hundreds of feet below daylight

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This tiny and nearly perfect story is the second of Sturm’s investigations of the dark corners of pioneer life in 19th-century America. The first, The Revival, dealt with spiritual yearning as seen in an intense outbreak of unorganized religion in rural Kentucky. In Hundreds of Feet, he turns to the blunt force of material need — the relentless pressure felt by settlers who are starting to realize that the limitless treasures and freedom they came for are not limitless.

The story is very simple : A small, isolated community struggles to make money from a coal mine that has changed hands several times, most recently by violence. They lose their leader and, shortly, everything else. A mystery is solved ; another one isn’t ; the end.
One might call it melodrama, but melodrama has its own single-minded logic ; Sturm’s narration has an ebb and flow like a half-remembered ballad, where each verse sketches a few different details of the picture.

It’s a story without a real beginning or end, more about community (or the lack of it) than about character. Sturm is not trying to present the definitive story of pioneer life, but serving as a witness to a few moments of pain among countless forgotten moments — resurrecting, through imagination, the voices of the dead that have been lost in mythology.

The writing and art are simple and balanced, with a style and pacing that owe a great deal to Chester Brown, as well as to the popular art of the period. It’s hard to say where Sturm will go from here. His art has developed very quickly, and he has a sharp instinct for tone and detail that turns a half-told or twice-told story into something haunting and difficult to forget.

Chroniqué par in October 1998