Italian cartoonist Tabilio and translator Schwandt breathe some new life into Marco Polo and his travels in this debut graphic novel.
Using Polo’s Il Milione as a launching pad, this fictional biography explores the Venetian traveler as much as it does his travels. Captured and imprisoned by the Genoese after the Battle of Korcula, an injured Polo awaits the negotiation of his release and meets Pisan writer Rustichello. When Polo’s fluency in the language of Cathay (a medieval name for China) sparks his curiosity, Rustichello convinces Polo to share the story that would eventually become Il Milione, with an added focus on Polo’s coming-of-age. The chronicle of Polo’s daunting travels and perilous adventures with his father and uncle takes on fantastic proportions as it intertwines with dreams, visions, and Tabilio’s transporting illustrations that are as complex in content as they are simple in style. Although it seeks to humanize the nearly mythic figure of Marco Polo, the narrative does not offer a challenge to its source material’s Western, Christian worldview, and the resulting perspective on Asia’s myriad cultures and history is awash in colonial exoticism. However, small anachronisms and metafictive comments from Rustichello invoke the many centuries of debate around Marco Polo’s travelogue, situating readers to question where his perspective might depart from truth.
Complex even for history buffs, this one requires and merits a second read. (afterword, glossary) (Graphic historical fiction. 14-adult)