On the Odd Hours

By Eric Liberge translated by Joe Johnson (NBM ComicsLit/Louvre: Musée du Louvre Éditions)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-577-1

This is the first time I’ve encountered this series of translated graphic novels so this review is off the cuff and without any previous prejudice and preconception. That sounded pretty poncey and imposing but all it means is: even with all the high tech info systems in the world, occasionally something rather cool can slip by the most avid fan or collector.

In this case it’s the first two books in a patently fascinating collaboration between one of the greatest museums in the world and the, until so recently, scurrilous world of comics. So I’m diving right in with immediate reactions to the third in a series of superior translated bande dessinée courtesy of those fine fellows and folks at NBM.

These tales are produced in close collaboration with the forward-looking authorities of the Louvre, but this is no gosh-wow, “Night-at-the-Museum”, thinly-concealed catalogue of contents from a stuffy edifice of public culture. Rather, here is a startling, beautiful, gloriously compelling adult horror thriller that cleverly incorporates the history, geography, icons and artifacts of the Louvre into the plot and makes the historic building and its contents a vital character in the supernatural drama.

Amongst the history and information pieces at the back of the book is an article on the services for the deaf such as signed tours, and the hearing-impaired guides and lecturers who are part of the staff. This is done to complement the tale of Bastien, an angry young deaf man who turns up at the museum to begin an internship, but somehow becomes a Night Guard, with special responsibilities for The Odd Hours of the clock: those moments when the 200 year old museum slips the shackles of reality and the exhibits escape their bounds, coming to terrifying, chaotic life…

The art is stunning in this extremely adult tome, and the creeping obsessions of Bastien as he struggles to keep his daylight life alive whilst striving to resolve the mystery of the exhibits is both poignant and enthralling.

Why was he selected for the position? Why are the animated beauties and horrors of the museum so much more enticing that his increasingly strident and difficult girlfriend? Most importantly, how can animated artworks be so much more communicative than the flesh and blood inhabitants of his “normal” life?

On the Odd Hours is utterly engrossing and darkly lovely, and despite being the third in the series reads easily as a stand-alone tale. I’m definitely going to track down the preceding volumes and I strongly recommend that you all do likewise.

© 2008 Futuropolis/Musée du Louvre Éditions. English Edition © 2010 NBM. All rights reserved.