Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Graphic Lit: Five French Comics

Say what you will about the French (I certainly do), but there’s one thing you can’t dispute: they make some really great comics.

Take, for example, these notable recent releases:

“Mister I”
by Lewis Trondheim

NBM, 32 pages, $13.95.

All poor Mister I wants to do is get something to eat. Too bad just about every person, animal and force of nature seems designed to keep him from that goal, the end result frequently being a bloody, highly comical death for our protagonist.

Trondheim’s wordless series of strips (a sequel of sorts to the equally funny “Mister O”) really highlights the cartoonist’s razor-sharp sense of timing. Despite the high body count and frequent bloodletting (not to mention some toilet humor), “Mister I” owes more to Chuck Jones than to Freddy Krueger, and fans of that sort of cartoon slapstick would do well to check this book out.

“Glacial Period”
by Nicolas De Crecy

NBM, 80 pages, $14.95.

In the distant future, when Europe is covered by snow and ice, a group of archeologists uncover the Louvre and try to determine its significance. As you might guess, they get everything wrong, believing, for example, the place to be owned by one “E. Delalacroix.” And they’re completely flummoxed by the images of angels and cupids (“Levitation isn’t reserved solely to the newborn it seems” one scientist surmises).

Though filled with allusions to art history, “Glacial Period” never feels stuffy or obtuse. It’s a witty, smart reminder of not only the real impermanence of art (the Mona Lisa fades away to become a “white square on a white background”), but man’s inability to see beyond the narrow confines of his own culture.

“Aline and the Others”
by Guy Delisle
Drawn and Quarterly, 72 pages, $9.95.

Delisle is actually from Canada, but he lives in Paris now, so we’ll include him here. Unlike his recent travelogues “Shenzhen and “Pyongyang,” “Aline” is a looser, more playful work. Like “Mister I,” it’s a collection of wordless strips, this time focusing on a succession of female protagonists who twist and distort their bodies in a variety of bizarre attempts to garner love, social acceptance, or both.

Like “Mister I,” “Aline” has a current of black humor running through it that may disturb some readers. Delisle’s sharp sense of humor, however, is clever and hilarious enough to win over those who don’t worry about such things.

“The Yellow M”
by Edgar P. Jacobs

9th Cinebook, 72 pages, $14.95.

Another slight fudge: Jacobs was actually Belgian, and an assistant to Herge, creator of Tintin. His “Blake and Mortimer” series, however, was almost if not equally as popular with French audiences as Herge’s, when it ran in the 1950s and ’60s.

“Yellow” finds the upright British serviceman Blake and Scottish professor Mortimer trying to catch the wily master criminal known only as “The Yellow ‘M.’ ”

The story moves along at a brisk clip, but it’s a little too verbose, filled with lots of unnecessary exposition and narration. It’s also missing the high slapstick that made Herge’s adventures such a joy to follow. Still, it’s nice that U.S. Tintin fans like myself have the chance to read a series that until now had been more heard about than seen.

“The Professor’s Daughter”
by Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert

First Second Books, 80 pages, $16.95.

A mummified pharaoh awakens from his sarcophagus, dons top hat and tails and sets about wooing the daughter of the 19th-century archaeologist that unearthed him in this charming, fanciful romance by the team that brought you “Sardine in Outer Space.”

As with that children’s series, Sfar and Guibert’s touch is light and delightfully goofy, an amazing feat considering the level of violence and number of supporting characters that get bumped off along the way.

Themes of family, unrealistic parental expectations and romantic longing all roll underneath the surface, but never rise to the point where, say, the pharaoh’s father, also a mummy, can’t kidnap Queen Victoria and throw her into the Thames. It’s a real gem of a book.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007



At 8:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to see someone else mention Glacial Period. I really liked it a lot.

At 11:53 AM, Anonymous Viagra said...

I usually turn a blind eye to French Comics, but lets say this has given me the curiosity to search for them. See if it can catch my eye.

At 3:24 AM, Anonymous said...

Quite useful data, thank you for this article.


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