From our Continental Correspondent – new Van Hamme and David B albums

Published On April 23, 2007 | By Wim | Comics, Continental Correspondent, Reviews

This week our Continental Correspondent Wim Lockefeer from the Ephemerist blog talks us through a couple of recent graphic novel albums which were much-anticipated in Europe; without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Wim: Two eagerly awaited books appeared in comic book stores over on the continent lately, and that’s about the only similarity you can draw between them. They couldn’t be more different.

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Largo Winch” by Philippe Francq and Jean Van Hamme is one of the most successful comics series about at the moment. It’s been chronicling the adventures of a “billionaire in jeans” since 1990, all the while sticking to a very rigid formula : international, exotic settings, intricate plots in the world of high finance and global business, lots of action and things being blown up and a constant supply of willing, skinny women with big breasts. Sounds like James Bond, come to think of it.

“Les Trois Yeux des Gardiens du Tao” (“The three eyes of the Guardians of the Tao”) is the rather pompous title of the fifteenth book in this series, and the first half of the eighth story (every story is split into two parts, with a nice cliffhanger in the middle). One of the Winchcorp companies is close to signing a very important deal with the Chinese government. The Chinese have a strange demand, however: they want Largo Winch, the group’s CEO, to sign the contracts personally. Naturally, this is another plot by Winch’s countless enemies to take him out…

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(panels from “Les Trois Yeux des Gardiens du Tao” – several preview pages are available on the official site)

I started reading this instalment with mixed feelings. It seemed like Van Hamme had lost faith in the book’s premises and had just been going through the motions for the past four or five books or so. There had been a very bad television series and even a branding deal with Suzuki; in short all the trappings of a ‘content property’ were in place. But I was in for a surprise – this is actually one of the best books in the series. It reaches a good balance between the – doubtlessly very well documented – business background and the action sequences, and it is paced tremendously well. It also gives the – rather cartoonish – persona of Largo more depth by delving into his past and showing that even this man, with all his money and power, is not without obligations and debts.

I’m not sure whether an English translation of this book is in the works, but I sincerely hope so. It’s an intricate, fairly intelligent but above all very entertaining series that without doubt would appeal to fans of 24 or, indeed, James Bond.

The other book that got my attention is a whole different affair. “Par Les Chemins Noir” is the first longer series that David B is producing for his new publisher, Futuropolis. After his well documented farewell to L’Association, the independent publishing house that he helped start and make successful, David B already published two books with Futuropolis, but none of them with the breadth and scope of “L’ascencion du Haut Mal”, the book that had made his name. With “Par Les Chemins Noirs”, we at least seem to be set for a tale with an equally broad canvas.

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The first book, aptly called “Les Prologues”, merely sets the stage for what will come later. It sketches life in the Italian city of Fiume in 1920. Gabriele D’Annunzio, a poet and a soldier, has taken over the city and installed a new and experimental government, against the old states which had left Europe in ruins after World War One. The city is surrounded by the Italian army, and, within its walls former soldiers, adventurers, foreign agents and common thieves constantly fight amongst themselves and with each other. Against this backdrop, Lauriano, an ex-soldier, and Mina, a cabaret singer, meet and fall in love. A dangerous business, since they both have shady pasts and uncertain futures.

I’ve always been a fan of David B’s very formalistic and iconic style. As was the case with his previous books (most notably his dream stories), he knows the art of distancing himself from the story by maintaining a certain schematism in the art, while at the same time drawing in the reader by the poignancy of the story. You can’t not be moved by the emotions and hope expressed by the characters, and at the same time you have the feeling of watching a very emblematic piece of theatre. And, as always, the book contains some very good fight scenes, with countless anonymous hotheads tearing each other to shreds in a roaring, seething, mass.

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(panels from “Par Les Chemins Noir” by David B, published by Futuropolis)

I’m sure this book will find its way to the English market if only because it shows a certain exoticism and humanity that previously drew people to Craig Thompson or Marjane Satrapi (let’s hope Cape, who published his “Epileptic”, pick up on it – Joe). It’s quite a bit more difficult to read than Largo Winch, but enormously more satisfying as well.

Short cuts:

Jean Van Hamme’s other blockbuster, XIII (recently published in English by Dabel Brothers and Marvel – Joe), is also gearing up for a new book. A special website was created to keep up the public’s attention and interest, with all the trappings that such a vehicle needs these days: forums, blogs, polls and what have you. Oh, and there’s also a game that will run for about a year and which consists of thirteen tasks. You can still sign up for it – they’re only at the third stage for the moment…

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On April 25, France celebrates the 80th birthday of one of its most famous cartoonists, Albert Uderzo, the creator of Asterix the Gaul. Children were invited to take part in a competition that would allow them to meet the master, visit his studio and be invited to the official banquet (hey, this is Asterix). Sadly, this competition was only open for French citizens, but word is that similar competitions will be organized throughout the year for other countries across Europe. You can check out the official Asterix site here.

Last week the Danish company onLibri launched its Dutch website. This is an online bookstore with a twist: they offer a range of e-books free of charge, but you will have to tolerate a fair amount of advertising lavishly spread all over the books. That doesn’t seem to be a problem for most Dutch readers: the most recent Fokke & Sukke collection (topical cartoons featuring two immensely popular birds with genitals and an attitude) has already been downloaded 100 000 times…

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Wim

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