Gold Mine!
The California Gold Rush Story

by Ginger Turner
& Shekhar Shimpi
(Gossamer, 2005)

Gold Mine! begins in a straightforward manner, setting up the events that lead to the California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. The main characters, Charlie and Alice, are fictional characters based on true historical accounts. The story also involves real-life characters, such as Joaquin Murieta (a Mexican bandit), Lotta Crabtree (a Broadway actress) and James Beckwourth (a former black slave who moved West and became a trail guide). There also are interesting historical anecdotes that aid the story, such as frontier culture clashes, the steep cost-of-living due to gold speculation and the rise of independent and lucrative women.

While the story starts off in a straightforward enough manner, it takes a very awkward turn. The narrative switches from spoken dialogue to the thought balloons of a mule! (Yes, the mule's thoughts are transcribed on the page.) It's almost as if the writer or editor decided the story seemed too "grown up" and decided to treat it like a '90s Disney movie. (A "talking" animal -- kids love it!) Just because this is a work of juvenile fiction doesn't mean that the story can't be told in an accurate manner. In my opinion, showing the mule's thoughts is a condescending element that nearly ruins the story.

The artwork, on the other hand, is very nice. The artist uses clean, neat linework and employs a simple color palette (something I find refreshing in this day of overzealous computer-crutched colorists). The characters are well rendered and easily distinguishable.

While it has a major flaw in its narrative, Gold Mine! The California Gold Rush Story is a pleasant and informative graphic novel. It presents a slice of life for gold prospectors seeking a better life in California, and does so in a fun, educational manner.

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 11 June 2005

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