The Grande Odalisque opens with Carole and Alex mid-heist, busy stealing a painting from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris under the cover of night. What seems like a familiar story of elegant thieves takes a turn right away when Alex loses focus as her boyfriend breaks up with her via text message, missing her cue, and Carole has to fight off security guards and a guard dog. Still, after they pull it off, the women are offered a bigger job from their armless underworld contact Durieux, stealing a painting from the Louvre. Thus begins the adventure that will consume the rest of the book as it bounces around the globe.
Carole brings more talent on to the team in the way of Sam, a motorcycle-driving “ChessBoxing” champion (it’s exactly what it sounds like, a combination of chess and boxing) who lost her girlfriend in a car crash the year before. The last fact is really just mentioned to soften Alex up to Sam joining the team, as Alex doesn’t think they need help. The group also enlists the aid of Clarence, son of the French ambassador to Mexico who is an arms dealer and drug smuggler. He will ultimately help them with their plan to steal “The Grande Odalisque” by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, but not before he gets himself kidnapped in Mexico by drug cartel that has a price on his head and the women having to save him.
Award winning French author/illustrator duo Jérôme Mulot and Florent Ruppert team up with Bastien Vivès (an Angouleme prize winner himself) for this book, splitting writing and illustrating credit equally between them. The artistic style in this book is one that relies on disjointed pencil lines and a watercolor softened approach. It’s sparse in details, and faces are very loosely constructed; so while it is clearly an artistic choice, it doesn’t always aid the storytelling. There are some reality-bending moments that you’d expect from something like a Fast and Furious movie where suddenly the laws of physics don’t matter and logic is tossed out the window. This book aspires to be a sexy, fast-paced thrilling adventure, but it doesn’t always stick the landing.
The storytelling comes in waves as some pages are wordless and others drive exposition right at you. For as light and witty as parts of this book try to be, there is plenty of violence from start to finish and some rather somber moments throughout. This isn’t a realistic book by any stretch, but there are some absolute leaps in logic that pulled me out of the story. If the art was more detailed, I think the authors may have had an easier time convincing me to follow the story. This book felt like it was straddling a line poorly as it aspired to be a high-impact, blockbuster crime story, but wrapped in the trappings of a low budget, independent art project about relationships. Those two things felt completely at odds throughout the reading.
Fantagraphics has previously published work by Mulot and Ruppert and has a back catalog of translated foreign titles. They aren’t afraid to take a big swing when it comes to publishing books that are underground or risqué. This book isn’t necessarily pushing the boundaries of taste (even if there is mild nudity and some coarse language), but has an unsettled feeling to it. The women feel like they are being written by men and without much nuance. Characters’ motivations are convenient for the story if they exist at all.
Libraries considering adding this title should keep it with their adult graphic novels or 18+ section. If you don’t have a big community of readers asking for European comics, it is okay to pass on this one.
The Grande Odalisque
By Jérôme Mulot, Florent Ruppert, Bastien Vivès
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: French
Character Representation: Bisexual, Lesbian,