The Stringer


By Ted Rall & Pablo Callejo (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-272-4 (Album HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-273-1

How many times have you heard it? “Print is dead”, “there’s no money in news” and other crass judgements solving a thorny problem by simply dismissing and diminishing it.

Thankfully folk like Ted Rall don’t always accept what they’re told in the way they’re meant to and have the ability to counterpunch with counterpoints…

Frederick Theodore Rall III was born in 1963, so he’s grown up with the gradual defanging and commercial contamination of journalism in an era of increased distrust of democracy and unchecked political malfeasance. A figure of constant controversy, he works widely as an editorial cartoonist, columnist and author of such books as Waking Up in America, The Year of Loving Dangerously, Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America, To Afghanistan and Back and many more.

Equally adept with outrageous but well-reasoned fantasy as compelling non-fiction, Rall has reunited with Pablo Callejo (Bluesman, The Castaways, The Year of Loving Dangerously) for a frighteningly convincing extrapolation of the way things are, that is one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in the last decade.

Mark Scribner is a highly experienced, world-weary investigative journalist who has also grown old in the above-cited decades. A veteran observer of conflicts, police actions, interventions and wars, with contacts from every stratum of all those zones and scenes and bars. He literally knows everyone in the global conflict game while viewing the advance of citizen reportage and click-bait editorialising with increasing despair.

However, when a crisis of conscience finally comes in a crisis barely making headlines anywhere, Scribner – always somehow in the right place at the right time – makes a bold new decision and picks a path far less, if indeed ever, travelled…

However, although his new lifepath carries incredible rewards as well as danger, Scribner is still tied to his old self and the values that elevate or destroy all humans alike, and his successes carry seeds of awful destruction…

Gripping, smart and scarily plausible, this potent dose of realpolitik is a supremely engaging yarn no news junkie or comics addict can afford to miss. Maybe you can’t handle the truth, but you should definitely handle this…
© 2021 Ted Rall & Pablo G. Callejo. © 2021 NBM for the English translation.

The Stringer is scheduled for physical release in the UK on May 25th 2021, with digital editions available now. For more information and other great reads please see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Michael Jackson in Comics


By Céka, illustrated by Patrick Lacan, Filippo Neri & Piero Ruggeri, JGSB, Laurent Houssin, Lu-K, Guillaume Griffon, Sarah Williamson, BiG ToF, Nikopek & Lou, Vox, Domas, Clément Baloup, Martin Trystram, Bast, Guillaume Tavernier, Aurélie Neyret, Anthony Audibert, Yigaël, Julien Akita, Lapuss, Kyung-Eun Park, Jean-Christophe Pol & Vallale; translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-228-1 (Album HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-230-4

Graphic biographies – especially those produced in Europe dissecting the lives of iconic celebrities and artists – are incredibly popular these days. This one was originally released in 2018: an inevitable but accessible addition and one featuring probably the most popular and controversial musical star of all time.

If you’ve never heard of Michael Jackson, there’s very little point in you carrying on any further.

Still with us? Okay then…

Offering cannily repackaged popular culture factoids and snippets of celebrity history, this tome – written by journalist Céka, with a legion of illustrators providing vivid and vibrant mini-strips – hones in on key moments in the controversial star’s career: detailing them through brief text essays.

It all began at ‘2300 Jackson Street’ where an extended family of juvenile performers were harshly schooled by their ruthless dad, after which the inner life of an abused kid is depicted in ‘I Wish I Could Have Been… A Child’, as portrayed in strip-form by Patrick Lacan.

The euphoria of winning talent contests and getting picked up by a major label is described in text article ‘From the Apollo Theater to Motown’ before Filippo Neri & Piero Ruggeri detail the draconian rehearsal regimen forced on the Jackson 5 by ambitious father Joe.

As their fame grew, little Michael constantly sought surrogate maternal relationships from a string of female celebrities. This is detailed in ‘One Father and Five Mothers’, with vividly lurid cartoon extrapolation ‘Diana Ross: THE Lady in his Life’ exploring the situation courtesy of JGSB.

‘From the Jackson 5 to Michael’ details the fractious move to solo stardom and hard-won autonomy ‘Made in Motown’(art by Laurent Houssin), whilst ‘5% Talent, 95% Hard Work’ explore the boy star’s ultimate idol in Lu-K’s ‘James Brown, the Mentor’.

The start of autonomy comes with ‘The Quincy Jones Trilogy’, depicting the global-shocks attending the making of‘Thriller: No Mere Mortal Can Resist!’ by Guillaume Griffon. Status is confirmed by ‘Birth of an Icon’ and attendant Moonwalk step-chart ‘An Extraterrestrial on Earth’ (Sarah Williamson art) before I Have a Dream’ starts tracing the cracks, and ‘The MTV Blackout’ – by Big ToF – discloses the colour bar keeping certain performers’ videos off pioneering music channels…

‘Jackson’s Jackpot’ and Nikopek & Lou’s linked visualisation of ‘A 47-and-a-Half Million-Dollar Blunder’ explore the tensions between the young star and Paul McCartney as well as music ownership rights, whilst – courtesy of Vox – carton strip ‘The Man with the White Socks’ illustrates the consequences of Prince of Pop’s style decisions as textually defined and described in ‘Fashionista’. ‘Dancing Machine’ examines signature moves, with Domas limning the steps in cartoon guide ‘The Man Who Slides on Clouds’. Before, social conscience engaged, ‘We are the World’ recalls the era of charity mega-records, with Clément Baloup depicting how the song was written in ‘Check Your Egos at the Door’.

The crown starts to wobble as ‘Neverland’ reveals how the fabulous ranch of dreams began, with Martin Trystram illustrating ‘Now Go Go Go Where you Want’, after which the media rumour mill runs wild in ‘Animal Spirit’, with Bast fancifully sketching out the story of exotic pets like ‘Bubbles, Muscles, and Co.’

Once unleashed, the press is relentless and ludicrous, as exposed in ‘Tabloid of Fact?’, with Guillaume Tavernier offering a strip further covering ‘The Rumor Mill’, whilst Aurélie Neyret’s cartoon tale of ‘Ryan White: Gone Too Soon’ adds balance to the uncomfortable reports of child-centred indiscretions recounted in ‘The Lost Children’

Excesses real or otherwise dominate in ‘Tabloid Junkie’, with Anthony Audibert vignetting ‘The Elephant Man Case’before the years of defensive self-isolation are detailed in ‘Blood on the Dance Floor’ and Yigaël draws the benefits – and not – of ‘Privacy’.

‘Scandal at Neverland’ leads to Julien Akita’s sensitive exploration of ‘Jordan Chandler vs Peter Pan’, a review of ‘Family Life’ with attendant strip ‘Once Upon a Time’ from Lapuss, after which ‘The Man With 240 Awards’ reveals ‘The Whims of a Star’ thanks to cartoonist Kyung-Eun Park.

The final days approach, as seen in essay ‘Fans, I Love You More!’ with Jean-Christophe Pol & Vallale visually enquiring ‘What Kind of Fan Are You?’ of the music man’s broad church of devotees.

The star-studded, star-crossed story concludes with ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ as Clément Baloup draws things to a close with ‘Michael Forever’

Although intellectually slight and far from incisive or comprehensive in addressing the many controversies surrounding the star in question, Michael Jackson in Comics is far from a concealing hagiography either and presents a remarkably readable and beautifully rendered confection for comics and music fans alike.
© 2018 Editions Petit a Petit. © 2021 NBM for the English translation.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Yakari and the White Buffalo (volume 2)


By Derib & Job, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-90546-004-5 (Album PB)

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who then wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre AKA “Derib”. The illustrator had launched his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on The Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou. Together they created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure comics gold a few years later with their next collaboration.

Derib – equally au fait with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s a crime that groundbreaking strips such as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic ever published dealing with AIDS), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet, but we still patiently wait in hope and anticipation…

Many of Derib’s stunning works over the decades feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes. Yakari is considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom.

Debuting in 1969, Yakari follows the life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains; set sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of modern Europeans.

The series – which has generated two separate TV cartoon series and a movie release – has achieved 40 albums: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and brilliance of its creators, even though originator Job has moved on and Frenchman Joris Chamblain assumed the writer’s role in 2016.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy and heady compassion, young Yakari enjoys a largely bucolic existence: at one with nature and generally free from privation or strife. For the sake of our delectation, however, the ever-changing seasons are punctuated with the odd crisis, generally resolved without fuss, fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, brave… and can – thanks to the boon of his totem guide the Great Eagle – converse with all animals …

Yakari et le bison blanc was the second collected European album, published in 1976 as the strip continued rapidly rising to huge prominence and critical acclaim.

Transformed to English, Yakari and the White Buffalo begins one cold day on the plains with winter snows still heavy on the ground. With spring delayed, animals and humans are going hungry and when the boy and his pinto mount Little Thunder return to camp, they find his father Bold Gaze has decreed they will move south in search of better prospects.

As they progress across the prairie the buffalo that should form the major part of their diet are nowhere to be found…

Then one day scout Grey Wolf furiously rides in. He has seen the herd. Soon they will all be enjoying the nourishment of Great Spirit Wakonda’s gift. That night the braves dance in honour of the moving mountains they will soon hunt. Not permitted to join the men, Yakari wanders off with his pony and meets totem spirit Great Eagle in a lush clearing. The noble bird warns him the hunt will not go the way it should and the glum boy heads home with Little Thunder buckling under the weight of firewood the worried yet diligent lad has gathered…

Far away, the braves are baffled and still without meat. The night sky is riven with terrifying lightning and a furious storm. Back at camp, Yakari is scared and worried but soon soothed by elderly Quiet Rock. Eventually, the boy sleeps and is again visited by prophetic dreams. After tracking the buffalo over boiling sandy wastes and through a strange horn-like rock formation, the vision ends with him leading the herd and a great white bull back to the people…

As his mother wakes him in the morning, elsewhere the braves have reached a great desert and, with no sign of the great herd, are forced to split into small scouting parties. With little to do, Yakari and Little Thunder race with boisterous older boy Buffalo Seed and gentle Rainbow. The chase takes them to the top of a hill where he sees the rocky prominence of his dream…

His friends cannot deter Yakari from riding right out into the vast, empty plain and before long both boy and pony suffer the harsh trials of scorching heat and burning thirst. Determined to go on, both are near death when Great Eagle arrives and teaches them the secret of getting water out of the tall cacti around them.

Fortified and reinvigorated, they push on into sandy wastes and the next day are confronted by a towering wall of rock. Unable to climb the forbidding massif, Yakari discusses the problem with his pony and the wise steed suggests that every fence has an opening somewhere…

At last, their patient search reveals a deliciously refreshing waterfall and a tunnel into a lush hidden oasis where the missing buffalo herd is grazing in total secrecy…

As they innocently approach the massive ruminants a young bull furiously attacks, but his charge is intercepted by an immense white buffalo who takes the intruders aside for a quiet chat.

The wise beast explains the nature of the hidden pasture and listens with great care to the tale of woe that has left the Sioux starving. The beast understands the role of all creatures in the grand scheme of life and was already preparing to lead the migration back to the plains when Yakari arrived…

By the time horse and rider have led the herd to the spring plains, the hunters have returned home, but the snowy bovine mountain sagely advises Yakari and Little Thunder to ride away before the braves can arrive to fulfil their role in the eternal cycle of life and death of the plains…

The saga of the valiant little brave who can speak with animals and enjoys a unique place in an exotic world is a decades-long celebration of joyously gentle, moving and inexpressibly entertaining adventures honouring and eulogising an iconic culture with grace, wit, wonder and especially humour. These tales are a masterpiece of kids’ comics literature and Yakari is a series no fan of graphic literature should be without.
Original edition © 1977 Le Lombard/Dargaud by Derib + Job. English translation 2005 © Cinebook Ltd.

Papyrus volume 6: The Amulet of the Great Pyramid


By Lucien De Geiter, coloured by B. Swysen: translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-240-9 (Album PB)

Papyrus is the astoundingly addictive magnum opus of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. Launched in 1974 on the pages of legendary weekly Le Journal de Spirou, it has run to 35 albums and spawned a wealth of merchandise, a TV cartoon series and video games.

Born in 1932, the author studied at Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels before going into industrial design and interior decorating. In 1961 he made the jump to sequential narrative, first via ‘mini-récits’ (half-sized, fold-in booklet inserts) for Spirou, starring his jovial cowboy ‘Pony’, and later by writing for art-star regulars such as Kiko, Jem, Eddy Ryssack and Francis.

He later joined Peyo’s studio as inker on ‘Les Schtroumpfs’ (The Smurfs), took over long-running newspaper strip ‘Poussy’ and launched mermaid fantasy ‘Tôôôt et Puit’ when Pony was promoted to Spirou’s full-sized pages. Deep-sixing the Smurfs, de Gieter expanded his horizons by joining a select band contributing material to both Le Journal de Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey.

From 1972-1974 he worked with cartooning legend Berck on ‘Mischa’ for Germany’s Primo whilst perfecting his dream project: a historical fantasy which would soon occupy his full attention and delight millions of fervent fans for decades to come.

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieux, mixing Boy’s Own adventure with historical fiction, fantastic action and interventionist mythology. The Egyptian epics gradually evolved from standard “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content to a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration. Each tale also deftly incorporated breaking historical theories and discoveries into the beguiling yarns.

Papyrus is a fearlessly forthright young fisherman favoured by the gods who rises against all odds to become an infallible hero and friend to Pharaohs. As a youngster, the plucky Fellah was singled out and given a magic sword, courtesy of the daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek, before winning similar boons and blessings from many of the Twin Land’s potent pantheon.

The youthful champion’s first accomplishment was freeing supreme deity Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos and restoring peace to the Double Kingdom, but it was as nothing compared to current duty: safeguarding Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and insanely thrill-seeking daughter Theti-Cheri – a dynamic princess with an astounding knack for finding trouble …

The Amulet of the Great Pyramid was 6th-&-last-to-date Cinebook translation (the 21st album of the series, originally released in 1998 as Le Talisman de la grande pyramide). It’s an enthralling rollercoaster romp through living mythology and a spooky trial for the plucky chosen one which begins when Papyrus is dragged from the palace – and a rare reward from Theti-Cheri for saving her life and soul again – by spookily intelligent donkey Khamelot.

The savvy beast of burden belongs to court jester Puin and whenever it comes running in such a manner, it means the funny little man has found more trouble…

An eventful trip to the Giza plateau with its royal necropolis and great pyramids of Kheops, Khefren and Mykerinusresults in the daring lad finding not only his diminutive friend but also a desiccated yet extremely active mummy unearthed by tomb-robbers.

Puin has been hearing ghastly screams emanating from the tombs and convinces the boy-hero to stay and listen for them too. He never anticipated his bold friend to look for what made them…

The sinister sounds lead deep into the nobles’ grave fields, but as they proceed, the searchers stumble upon another acquaintance. The unconscious man is one of the three Pepi brothers charged with keeping the recently-restored Sphinx free of desert sands. Leaving the comatose victim in Puin’s care, Papyrus presses on. Before very long though, the eerie events prove too much and the panicked Professional Fool bolts. His pell-mell rush carries him down a passage far under the Kheops pyramid where he is confronted with the spirit of Seneb the Dwarf, magician and priest of that august and long-deceased pharaoh…

The garrulous ghost is in need of a favour and urges his terrified “guest” to carry his jewelled heart scarab to Papyrus who will know what to do with it…

Scrabbling out of the ancient passageway, Puin is eventually rescued by his donkey and impetuous Theti-Cheri – who again refused to be left out of any action and secretly followed her bodyguard into peril.

Papyrus, meanwhile, plunges deeper into the necropolis and is attacked by a pack of spectral jackals. Even his magic sword is no help and the malign mobbing only ends when Anubis himself calls a halt to it. The God of the Dead is angered by the sudden increase in grave-robbing and has abducted two of the caretaking Pepi brothers, thinking them desecrators.

Unfortunately, rather than admit a mistake, the jackal-headed judge demands Papyrus retrieve Kheops’ heart amulet in return for their liberty. Anubis needs it to weigh the king’s soul before he can remove all the wandering spirits of the region to a place where the living can no longer disturb them…

And thus ensues an astonishing race against time as the young champion has to scour the Great Pyramid from top to bottom (magnificently detailed and scrupulously explained in some of the best action illustration the author has ever produced); defeating deadly traps, defying spectral sabotage and godly interventions and solving the riddles of the dead to accomplish his mission.

However, even after more than satisfying the demands of Anubis, there’s still the murderously mundane menace of the real grave-robbers holding Theti-Cheri hostage to deal with before the canny champion can rest easy…

Epic, chilling, funny, fast-paced and utterly engaging, this is another amazing adventure to thrill and enthral lovers of wonder from nine to ninety-nine, confirming Papyrus to be a sublime addition to the family-friendly pantheon of Euro Stars who wed heroism and humour with wit and charm.

Any avid reader who has worn out those Tintin, Lucky Luke and Asterix albums would be wise beyond their years to add such classic chronicles to their bookshelves, and actively agitate the publishers to get on with releasing the rest of these too-long buried treasures.
© Dupuis, 1998 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2015 Cinebook Ltd.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden


By Mannie Murphy (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-410-0 (HB)

How does memory work? Are your recollections neatly sorted and filed away: dry, dusty documents effortlessly relating time, place, event and response, or is the act of personal recall mired in apparently extraneous passions and seemingly irrelevant sidebars of emotion, pulling you from the topic far and away before circling back to what originally set you thinking?

Mine’s that last one, and it’s a phenomenon used to devasting effect by Mannie Murphy as they pull together deeply intimate musings on famous – but presumably unrequited – imagined inamorata who endured tragic fates, peppered with youthful school experiences and personal philosophies while powerfully delivering a chilling expose of the proudly racist and white supremacist history of hometown Portland, Oregon.

Rendered as a personal diary with sometimes-impenetrable cursive script married to wash-&-ink images, Murphy details long-distance, strictly hands-off relationships with teen icons River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves (specifically as observed in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho); Kurt Cobain and less well-known or admired personalities: all while deftly dissecting the far-from-savoury development and current state of a region long considered the promised land for Far Right fantasists and dreamers.

Available in hardback or various digital formats, the meandering masterclass opens with ‘My Own Private Portland’setting the scene for a mesmerising journey through the city and state through the lens of damaged, disenfranchised and frequently doomed youth. Second chapter ‘Ken Death is Dead’ expands the discussion detailing the career of a beautiful poster child for Nazi extremism and convicted mass killer, who was just another pawn in a cruel game played by older, nastier Machiavellians, after which the story of Oregon and its awful record of racism, exclusion and mass murder – much of it permitted or committed by a complacent and compliant police force – is covered in ‘Flood’.

A hard-earned, personal view of the educational set-up and its grim consequences is related in ‘Victims of Groupthink’with perspective supplied by further reference to celluloid Lost Boys and their connections to bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and other notable outsiders, all cleverly married to distressing accounts of tragedies and disasters that systematically shaped the city and the kids growing up the Oregon way.

The miraculous transport of curated memories then closes with a chilling Epilogue as ‘Young Hatemongers’ revisits the Ken Death trial and media storm around it with revelations that came to light during the later stages of this book’s creation.

Dark, brooding, deeply upsetting while brimming with potent immediacy and rough-hewn passion, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is an apparently rambling but carefully steered narrative of seemingly random remembrances that serve as a warning from history and heartfelt plea for people to be better than they are…
© 2021 Mannie Murphy. This edition © 2021 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Women Discoverers: 20 Top Women in Science


By Marie Moinard & Christelle Pecout, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-270-0 (Album HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-271-7

Comics and graphic novels have an inconceivable power to deliver information in readily accessible form, and – like all the best teachers – can do so in ways that are fascinating, fun and therefore unforgettable. Here’s a fresh entrant in a wave of historical and biographical visual celebrations seeking to redress centuries of gender injustice while providing true life role models for the coming generations.

Crafted by writer, editor and journalist Marie Moinard (En chemin elle recontre, La petite vieille du Vendredi) & Christelle Pécout (Lune d’Ombre, Hypathie, Histoires et légendes normandes), Les découvreuses is a cheery hardback – or digital – compendium made comprehensible to us, via translation into English by those fine folk at NBM.

As the name suggests, Women Discoverers focuses on twenty female scientists who generally – without fanfare or even fair credit – changed the world. Some are still doing so. A combination of comics vignettes and short illustrated data epigrams preceded by an impassioned Introduction from Marie-Sophie Pawlak (President of Elles Bougent scientific society), the revelations begin an extended strip history of the achievements of the peerless Marie Curie whose discoveries in chemistry and physics practically reinvented the planet. She is followed by brief vignettes of French biologist Françoise Barre-Sinoussi (discoverer of the HIV retrovirus), Canadian physicist Donna Théo Strickland (laser amplification) and African-American Dorothy Vaughan whose mathematical and computing skills served the world at NASA.

It’s back to comics for Ada Lovelace who revolutionized mathematics by inventing computer programming, after which single page biographies describe the achievements of lengths undertaken by French mathematician Émilie du Châtelet to attend men-only institutions in the days of the Enlightenment.

Although separated by centuries, mathematicians Emmy Noether (Germany 1882-1935) and Grace Alele-Williams (born in Niger in 1932) both excelled and triumphed despite male opposition but their stories pale beside the strip-delivered hardships of actress, engineer and mobile phone pioneer Hedy Lamarr

Another Nasa stalwart, mathematician/astrophysicist Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson, famously calculated Apollo 11’s life-saving orbit, while paediatrician Marthe Gautier discovered the origins of Downs’ Syndrome and Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani’s geometry discoveries were tragically cut short by illness…

The shameful treatment and fate of British researcher Rosalind Franklin also ended in a cruelly early death and belated fame, unlike French mathematician, philosopher and physicist Sophie Germain whose many (posthumous) triumphs never brought her inclusion in the numerous scientific organisations barring female membership during her lifetime.

Whereas Marie Curie’s daughter Irène Joliot-Curie won similar accolades to her mother, astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars only to have her (male) supervisor steal the credit. At least she’s still alive to see the record set straight…

In pictorial form, astronaut Mae Jemison reveals her life and medical successes on Earth, before this potent paean closes with a trio of one-page wonders: Kevlar inventor Stephanie Kwolek, Navy mathematician Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (writer of the COBOL programming language) and Chinese chemist Xie Yi whose advances in nanotechnology have made the world a very different place.

Sure, you could Google them, but this book is a far more satisfying and charming alternative and the very fact that you probably haven’t heard of most of these astounding innovators – or even a few of the more ancient ones – only proves, without doubt, that you need this book.
© 2019 Blue Lotus Prod. © 2021 NBM for the English translation.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Queen Margot volume 1: The Age of Innocence


By Olivier Cadic, François Gheysens & Juliette Derenne, coloured by Sophie Barroux: translated by Luke Spears(Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-90546-010-6 (Album PB)

Although not so well known in Britain as his other novels, on the Continent Alexandre Dumas père’s historical romance La Reine Margot is an extremely popular and well-regarded fictionalisation of the life of Marguerite de Valois.

This unlucky historical figure was the daughter of Henry VII of France and infamously diabolical arch-plotter Catherine de Medici, spending most of her early life as a bargaining chip in assorted convoluted dynastic power-games.

We don’t see a lot of proper historical romance in English-language comics; which is a shame as the stylish intrigue, earthy humour, elegant violence and brooding suspense (just think The Great without the excessive sex and violence… or vodka) of this one would certainly attract legions of fans in other sectors of artistic endeavour.

This substantial yet enchanting treatment of events and uncorroborated legends of the girl who eventually became the wife of Henri IV, Queen Consort of France twice over and the most powerful, influential, infamous woman in Europe is well worth a look-see, especially as most of what we know about her comes first-hand.

Queen Margot related the events of the times and her life – in exquisite, penetrating detail – through an infamous series of memoirs published posthumously in 1628…

Co-scripted by publisher, politician, computer entrepreneur, historian and statesman Olivier Cadic and François Gheysens, illustrated with intensely evocative passion and potently authentic lyricism by Juliette Derenne (Les Oubliés, Le 22e jour de la Lune) and enlightened through the graceful colours of Sophie Barroux; the first chapter appeared in 2006 as La Reine Margot: Le Duc de Guise and opens here in English with a spiffy gate-fold cover offering a potted history and run-down of the major players before the intrigue unfolds…

In August 1569, 16-year-old Margot and her Lady-in-waiting/governess Madame Mirandole arrive at the castle of Plessis-lez-Tours. In the ongoing wars between Papists and Huguenots, Margot’s ailing brother Charles might be King of Catholic France, but her other brother Henri, Duke of Anjou is the darling of the court: a veritable Adonis and glorious war-hero smiting the Protestant foe.

Anjou is also a sibling she adores and worships like a schoolgirl…

What little brotherly love there was stood no chance against a sea of popular feeling and cruel, envious unstable, hypochondriac Charles is determined to see it end and all Henri’s growing power and inherent glamour with it. Naturally, his dynastically-obsessed mother has plans to fix everything, but they never extend to showing her practically worthless daughter the slightest hint of kindness or approval.

Although young, Margot (who prefers the familiar name “Marguerite”) knows well that she’s nothing more than a disposable piece in a grand game, but briefly forgets her inevitable fate as Henri bedazzles the Court with tales of his martial triumph. Later he shares his own ambitions and misgivings with her. He dreads jealous, inept Charles taking the role of military commander for his own, and does not want to be married off to the Arch-Duchess of Austria…

Marguerite has problems of her own: Henri’s most trusted lieutenant; the appalling Lord Du Guast, tries to force himself upon her whilst making the most disgusting suggestions and veiled accusations before she can escape…

Worst of all, her mother – steeped in five generations of Machiavellian Medici manipulation and inspired by the bizarre prognostications of her personal seer Ruggieri – has begun setting her plans for the potentially invaluable, royally connected daughter.

Margot can do nothing against her mother’s wishes but, with the aid of drugged wine, she repays Du Guast’s affront with a public humiliation she will come to regret…

Everything changes when charismatic Henri, Duke of Guise and hero of the Siege of Poitiers arrives. He and Marguerite were childhood friends and now they are both grown, their mutual attraction is clear to all. Instantly, his lurking family sense a chance to advance themselves through a love match and quick marriage…

The kids themselves are only dimly aware of alliances. They want each other and even an entire gossiping, constantly watching Court is not enough to deter them…

As the war devolves into slow and depressing attrition, Anjou doggedly pursues victory and awaits his inevitable ousting, whilst Du Guast lays his plans to destroy and possess Marguerite.

News of her dalliance with Guise is of great worth to him and even though Catherine has organised a tentative betrothal to the Catholic king of Portugal, the vile seducer has ways and means of spoiling the proposed match. He’s even inadvertently aided by Marguerite herself, who tries many stratagems to disrupt the regal deal…

The constant in-fighting and subterfuge turns Anjou against his sister and when “proof” of her affair with Guise reaches Catherine the old queen moves swiftly.

Marguerite is compelled to capitulate to save Guise from Charles’ insane wrath and grimly faces the prospect of never seeing him again: cushioned in despised luxury and once more the pliable prize and powerless pawn in a game she cannot escape, avoid or win…

Colourful, intoxicating and powerfully compelling, The Age of Innocence is a beguiling view of eternal passions and human intrigue to delight the hardest of hearts and the most finicky of comics aficionados.
Original edition © 2006 Cinebook Ltd/Cadic – Gheysens. All rights reserved. English translation 2006 © Cinebook Ltd.

Marie Antoinette: Phantom Queen


By Rodolphe & Annie Goetzinger, translated by Peter Russella (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-029-4 (HB)

As I’m perpetually reiterating, just like so much European art and culture, French language comics (I’m controversially including Belgium and Swiss strips in this half-baked, nigh-racist, appallingly sweeping statement) often appear as a triumph of style over content.

That doesn’t mean they’re bad – far, far from it – but rather that sometimes writing and plot aren’t as important to the creators – or readers – as the way it looks on a page/in a book, and complex characterisation isn’t always afforded the same amount of room that scenery, players, fighting or sex gets.

Such is not the case in this sublimely evocative and eerily placid episode by eminent Bande Dessinée scenarist Rodolphe D. Jacquette (Le Conservateur, Raffini, Cliff Burton) and former fashion artist turned comics creator supreme Annie Goetzinger (Girl in Dior, Casque d’Or, Aurore, L’Agence Hardy) which seamlessly blends the tone and timbre of two iconic eras in French history into a tale of mystery, imagination and rather indolent intrigue…

First seen in 2011 as Marie Antoinette, La Reine Fantome, the translated wonderment follows an enlightening Introduction from Rodolphe, describing the origins and provenance of the story before co-writer and sole illustrator Goetzinger introduces us to artist Maud as she sits in the gardens of the Petit Trianon at Versailles.

It’s October 5th 1934 and her sketching of the scene is a brief yet welcome escape from her own problems. Her beloved but far older husband is recently dead, leaving her a vast fortune which her stepson son covets. Remy constantly pesters her to marry him, but she knows he’s as likely to kill as wed her to get his hands on the inheritance…

Things take a strange turn when her dog breaks loose and scampers away. He is quite the hit with the ladies of the Court when he bounds into a grand building, just as a frantic footman warns Queen Maria Antoinette that they must all retreat to the castle before the peasants besieging Versailles find them. It is still October 5th, but also somehow, so very long ago…

As her stepson’s attentions become more obnoxious and intolerable, Maud’s dreams are hunted by potent, tangible glimpses of the dead queen’s final days, and close friends Suzy and Maggie convince her to try an oh-so-fashionable séance.

Also attending the affair is attractive psychiatrist Dr. Maurice D’Octrobre, a man of great charm and learning, possessed of a remarkably open mind…

Good thing too, since the ceremony allows Marie Antoinette to manifest, imploring Maud to find her remains and re-bury her so that the tragic queen can rest at last…

And so begins an utterly beguiling, entrancingly sophisticated, classically constructed ghost story with clever plot twists, genteel suspense and even a vile villain who sees his stepmother’s unsuspected psychic gifts as a handy stepping stone to having her committed and possessing her fortune…

Maud’s path is unswerving and her triumph never in doubt, but she never expected that in addition to the satisfaction of a job well done and a soul saved there would be such tangible rewards for her good deed…

Eerily comfortable and superbly satisfying; balancing melancholy shades of The Ghost and Mrs Muir with the foreboding poesy of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, Marie Antoinette: Phantom Queen is a superb step back into a lost world of elegant mystery and imagination: one no fantasy lover or mature comics reader should miss.
© Dargaud 2011. All rights reserved.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

The Magical History Tour volume 1: The Great Pyramid


By Fabrice Erre &Sylvain Savoia translated by Joseph Laredo (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-54580-633-3 (HB)

Here’s the first instalment of a superb European export designed to make history even more compelling for kids. Originally edited by the fabulous Lewis Trondheim and Frédéric Niffle, Le Fil de l’Histoire is a series of handy introductions to pertinent periods starring an all-wise older sister and her little brother who visit key moments and learn lots.

This kiddies’ hand-sized hardback tome was originally Tome 2: La Pyramide de Khéops, and sees Annie turn young Nico’s Lego-building triumph into an immersive teaching moment, whisking them back to see the great Pyramid in all its glory, detailing how and why it was built and conducting a tour of the interior most Egyptologists would give their last scarab cartouche for…

Responsible adults are author/educator/newspaper columnist and Doctor of History Fabrice Erre while illustration honours go to diligent comics pro Sylvain Savoia, who will be further entertaining later this month when I review his magnificent Marzi series. Trust me, you can’t wait…

Today’s treat also offers building techniques, comparisons of other mastabas, mausoleums and tombs and traces the history of the magnificent edifice through the centuries. Herodotus’ misreading of facts, the Caliph of Baghdad’s brutal desecration of the site, tomb robbers, Napoleon’s obsession and others interactions are all covered as well as a peek into possible future of the site.

Adding extra value are biographies of Imhotep, Cheops, Hemiunu, Herodotus, plans of the Giza Plateau, the Six Other Wonders of the World (now lost) and a comprehensive Timeline.

History is fun and comics are great. This book is both. Add it to your shelves and brace yourself for the chronicles to follow.
© 2018- DUPUIS – Erre – Savoia. All other material © 2021 Papercutz.

A Journal of my Father


By Jiro Taniguchi translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian with Chitoku Teshima (Fanfare-Ponent Mon)
ISBN: 978-1-91209-743-2 (HB)

Unless you’re a dedicated fan of manga, you probably haven’t heard of Taniguchi Jirō (14th August 1947-11 February 2017). Despite his immense talent as both writer and artist – in 2011, France knighted him a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres – his “gekiga” work has been slow to reach English speakers since his 1970 debut in Young Comic with Kareta Heya (A Desiccated Summer).

With nearly 50 different series and collections to his credit – originally hard-edge crime like City Without Defense, The Wind of the West is White, Lindo 3, Blue Fighter and Knuckle Wars – the 1990s saw him move into more universal and mature themes with Kamigami no itadaki (The Summit of the Gods), Kamigami no itadaki, and – in 1997, in collaboration with Moebius – Ikaru (Icarus).

He expanded into straight drama with Botchan no Jidai, Inu o Kau and the remarkable A Distant Neighborhood (a major, albeit Belgian, motion picture since 2010).

Joking aside, Mr. Taniguchi was a major force in international comics and now his most personal masterpiece is at last available in English, thanks, I suspect to a career-long and most appreciative French connection. Hopefully, that will extend to digital editions fairly soon …

Beguilingly mild, understated and packed with suppressed and repressed emotion, Chichi no Koyami details how a quiet, diligent parent is called back to his home town after years away in Tokyo. Yoichi Yamashita has spent decades away, carving out a life and family for himself while avoiding all contact with his own father.

Now the old man is dead, and the dutiful son returns for the funeral rites. Talking with family and friends, he gradually learns of a man and life he never really knew and, as he re-examines his side of a never-changing story probably repeated in every household in the world, Yoichi reassesses and apply an uncompromising lens of hard-earned experience to the life he made after leaving so long ago.

In dignified, revelatory slices, beginning with ‘A Sunny Place on the Floor’ and ‘Traces of Spring’, he reconsiders his life. ‘Crimson Memories’, ‘New Roads’, ‘My Beautiful Mother’, ‘Summer Recollections’, ‘Separation’ and ‘Another Mother’ fill in details like a detective thriller with all the clues and evoked memories of ‘A Particular Photograph’, ‘My Uncle’s Words’, ‘Revolving Seasons’ and ‘Hometown in Spring’ drawing him into long-delayed emotional metamorphosis and catharsis…

Gentle and lyrical, rendered with staggering visual authenticity and ruthless honesty, this old, old story is mesmerising in its power to move: an emotional tonic every father and son should apply lavishly to their own experience and a truly grown-up picture book we should all use as manual to navigating family life.
Chichi no Koyami by Jiro Taniguchi © Papier/1995 Jiro Taniguchi. All rights reserved. © 2021 Potent Mon for the English language edition.