The potential for comic books to serve as chronicles of natural life has gone largely unexplored, but Maggie Umber’s new graphic novel Sound Of Snow Falling (2dcloud) seeks to change that with its silent journey through a forest landscape over the course of a year. Following two great horned owls, this book takes a documentarian approach to the setting and its animal inhabitants, aiming to capture the behavior of these creatures as factually as possible. The foreword by owl researcher James Duncan reinforces that all of the material in these pages is an accurate representation of nature, and Umber has diligently researched books and live footage to bring these creatures to life on the page.
Anyone irritated by the personification of animals in nature documentaries will appreciate Umber’s approach to depicting the lives of her pair of owls. She doesn’t attempt to create a deeper plot, although a subtle narrative does develop, dealing with the primal idea of survival in an environment that changes with the seasons. Umber is more concerned with individual moments: how the owls dress their nest, how they hunt, how they interact with each other, their chicks, and other denizens of the forest. It’s a challenge to capture the subtleties of animal movement without exaggerating them, but Umber brings a vitality to these creatures that pulls the reader into their world and their experience.
There are moments when it can be difficult to discern the shape of the figures, but given how well camouflaged these birds are, that feels like an intentional choice. Umber recognizes that part of the mystique of these animals is how they appear to become one with their surroundings, fading in and out of sight. While Umber largely sticks to conventional panel layouts, there’s a specific moment where she’s more playful with how she presents information. After the female owl lays her eggs, the development of those fetuses is presented in a diagram paired with another diagram showing the cycles of the moon, depicting the passage of time while connecting the growth of the tiny owls to a cosmic routine.
Animals go extinct, and while there’s currently plenty of filmed footage of the animal kingdom, it requires some sort of equipment to be viewed. That’s not the case with a graphic novel, and all a reader needs to do is pick up this book to discover a part of nature they may have never seen before. It takes a lot of work to achieve that realism on the page while still evoking the grace of these creatures, and Sound Of Snow Falling shows how the comic-book medium can reveal the finer details of the natural world.