Arkworld Vol. 1, April 2020, Devil’s Due Comics
(Post image: Arkworld Vol 1. Cover)
It’s time for another edition of my series, Digging in the Wrong Place! I have two other posts about books in the works (that one day soon I will actually finish and publish), but for now let’s talk about comics.
One of my research interests is in the relationship between pop culture, archaeology, and pseudoarchaeology. I’m always interested to see how archaeology and pseudoarchaeology appears in pop culture, be it comics, movies, TV shows, books, etc (for example, check out my friend Paulina’s articles about Marvel and Dark Horse Comics). I also find it interesting to look at the ways archaeology and pseudoarchaeology influence pop culture. For example, how archaeologist Margaret Murray’s theories about a witch-cult inspired the work of H.P. Lovecraft. Or how pseudoarchaeology has influenced comics like Lost City Explorers and The Osiris Path. With regards to my PhD research, I’m particularly interested in the real world impacts these pop culture representations of archaeology and pseudoarchaeology have, (i.e. the connection between H.P. Lovecraft, Ancient Aliens, and some cults in North America). I’m really looking forward to the ways I can tie my interests in pop culture into my research!
On that pop culture note, yesterday my husband and I decided to visit our local comic book shop on our way home from running some errands. I was browsing the “Recently Released” shelves when a new comic series caught my eye. Its cover looked like it has some archaeology potential, so I checked the back cover. “When a discovery turns our understanding of history upside down…”, “the year is 11,000 BCE…”, and “deep state conspiracy…” had me hooked, so Arkworld Vol. 1, by Devil’s Due Comics, came home with me. And as I found out when I started reading Arkworld, it’s pseudoarchaeology from cover to cover, and beyond.
What caught my attention on the front cover was the description that Arkworld is “The dawn of an archeopunk saga.” Archeopunk. What is archeopunk? Turns out it’s an entirely new genre named by the comic’s creator, Josh Blaylock. Similar to how steampunk is sci-fi inspired by 19th century industrial, steam-powered machinery, ‘archaeopunk’ refers to a sci-fi inspired world from the distant past. To be honest, I kind of like the term. And considering this entire comic is a pseudoarchaeological story about Atlantis and worldwide power grids, the term fits. The characters live 13,000 years ago (though I kept forgetting that) but they’re using pretty fancy tech.
On that note, I’ll give you a brief rundown of what this comic is about. Arkworld opens with a current-day construction crew in Perth, Australia. The crew is clearing some land when they accidentally cause a sinkhole, revealing a strange stone structure. Unbeknownst to them, there is a man inside the structure (who we later learn is named Seth Khotep), looking for someone named Cleito. And that’s when the comic begins jumping back and forth through time. Readers are taken back in time to 13,000 years before present (or 11,000 BCE as the back cover writes) to a placed called Ra’tas (representing Egypt), where Seth Khotep lives. He’s a construction worker helping to build stone pyramids and he’s also expecting his girlfriend, Cleito, to arrive in Ra’tas that evening. As the story jumps between the past and the present, readers find out that in the present there is a mysterious organization now taking over the investigation of the stone structure, while in the past readers learn that the pyramids are part of a worldwide power grid. The main pyramid is located at the centre of the Earth, and other pyramids have been built around the world to connect to this central source. Fast-forwarding a bit through the story (because I’m not going to tell you everything that happens and give it all away), the death of Cleito’s mother sets off a communication chain between characters around the world. We meet Elmack in Tenoch (Mexico), Kachi in Sipapu (southwestern United States), and Sovian in Korya (somewhere icy, the comic provides a map but Korya isn’t on the map). Seth was instructed by Cleito’s mother to find Elmack in Tenoch, and upon receiving news of the mother’s death Sovian says he needs to head to Tenoch, so I’m assuming that at some point all the characters will come together in Tenoch. The only character I’m unsure about is Kachi, because the comic gave her very little attention, so I really don’t know yet how she’s connected. Anyway, jumping back to the present, the mysterious organization has gotten into the stone structure and Seth has found a way out of it through an opening in some rocks. Exiting the structure, however, Seth finds himself in a small village and puzzled as to how one of the villagers recognizes him. That is until he finds himself looking at massive stone carving in the village of him and Cleito. A carving suggesting his death.
As I read the pages, I saw pseudoarchaeology jumping out everywhere. Now, I recognize that I am familiar with these pseudoarchaeological theories, which is in part why they were so obvious to me. Fortunately for anyone unfamiliar with them, there is a handy explanation guide called “Hidden Artifacts” at the back of the issue (I think a recurring feature in future issues) that explains the basics of all the theories that appeared in this volume. Anyway, I’ll list below the overt references to pseudoarchaeology that I saw (which I’ll put in bold), and how they appear in the comic:
- Pyramids/general megalithic architecture were built with highly advanced technology because there is no way humans could carve those stones so perfectly OR move them into place – Seth is seen carving blocks for the pyramid in Ra’tas with a specialized machine he wears (like a harness). He attaches special pucks to the blocks once they’re carved that taps into magnetic properties in the rock. He is able to shift the magnetic poles, allowing him to lift the blocks and move them into place with ease.
- Atlantis – Atlantis is an actual city in Arkworld. And apparently they’re quite power hungry (part of the Atlantis myth was that the flooding was punishment for the Atlanteans abusing their power and trying to take over other places). Also, one of the temples in Ra’tas is Mayan in appearance, playing into the idea that Atlantis was ancestral to cultures all around the world.
- Pyramids as power plants/pyramid power – The world in Arkworld is collectively tapped into a central power source at the centre of the earth. A pyramid was constructed there first to allow access to the Earth’s power, and then pyramids have been built around the earth to allow multiple cities/regions access to that power supply. Also, we see a giant tuning fork in Sipapu, where Kachi lives, which is also connected to the idea of pyramids as power sources (and the general tuning fork shape seen in many ancient hieroglyphs around the world)
- African origins of the Olmec people – Elmack is a Black character who lives in Tenoch, which is supposed to represent Mexico. Not only do we see one of the Olmec colossal heads in Tenoch, but Elmack’s motorcycle helmet is identical to the helmet carved on the colossal head.
- Flying machines existed in the past, thanks to Atlantean technology – Elmack’s motorcycle is modelled after objects found at archaeological sites that ancient alien theorists have argued are flying machines/airplanes
- Red-haired giants with elongated skulls once existed – Sovian’s character is a red-haired giant man with an elongated skull.
Those are what I saw in the pages of the comic itself, but there’s more. On the very last page (where the world map is included), the comic creators have included a list of “Recommended Reads and Listens”. This list consists of: Graham Hancock, Cliff Dunning (specifically his Earth Ancients podcast), Randall Carlson, David Hatcher Childress, and Ken Swartz (specifically his C60 show). There are no archaeologists on this list. There also aren’t any women, but that’s an issue for another day.
I also noticed that Arkworld has its own dedicated website, separate from the publisher, so I decided to check it out. The homepage shows you all 5 versions of the cover, one of which is a special edition cover from David Hatcher Childress. The only other menu option on the website takes you to the comic creator’s blog. The first entry, Converging Discoveries, explains the inspiration behind the comic. There’s a fun little slideshow of photos to compliment the blog post. In the post, Blaylock discusses what interests led him to write Arkworld. He mentions, “a few very interesting discoveries that are truly throwing a wrench in the gears of traditional archaeological beliefs.” Later, unsurprisingly, there’s also mention of hiding challenging discoveries to protect reputations and all that stuff (I’m paraphrasing here). He includes some specific inspirational examples and little descriptions of each, which are Denisovan DNA, Göbekli Tepe, the enormous number of Maya buildings recently uncovered in Guatemala by LIDAR, and the comet impact hypothesis (aka the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis).
To be completely honest, I enjoyed Arkworld Vol. 1. I think it’s a fun, adventurous story and I really am interested in following it to see where it goes. I’m not particularly worried about the pseudoarchaeology as it appears in the pages of the comic, because it has been wound into the storyline in a very fictional manner. I don’t think the comic itself is going to drive anyone down a pseudoarchaeology rabbit hole. But I’m worried that everything beyond the pages will. I do have concerns about the fact that all the suggested readings/listenings are pseudoarchaeological. I also have concerns that in the blog posts there is additional encouragement to seek out pseudoarchaeological explanations and disregard archaeology because we “had an aversion to any hypothesis that came anywhere close to insinuating any truth…”. I’m concerned because of the serious harms pseudoarchaeology can cause to people and communities. This isn’t an indictment of the comic creators. I don’t know them and I want to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re interested in archaeology but misguided. I know there are many archaeologists who would LOVE to work with comic creators and help them tell and awesome story without perpetuating pseudoarchaeology (including some advice on what is or is not appropriate to include as Kickstarter incentives), and I hope Arkworld’s creators try to connect with us! In the meantime, I’ll keep my eyes on the comic store shelves for the next installment in the new Arkworld saga.