In the crumbling manor Vill’Hervé live Lucie, Fred, and their five daughters, Enid, Hortense, Bettina, Genevieve, and Charlie. The family gets along quite well considering that Lucie and Fred are in fact ghosts, having died in a car crash nearly two years before. They linger on to occasionally reveal themselves to their daughters—Lucie cautioning Enid not to eat too many slices of cake before dinner or Fred helping Charlie to light the cantankerous broiler. But despite these visits, Lucie and Fred only ever reveal themselves to their daughters briefly, unexpectedly, and to each girl as an individual, never as a group. They are no longer of the living world, and it’s up to the Verdelaine sisters to take care of themselves.
Set in France, the plot of siblings orphaned by a car crash and now distantly watched over by a guardian (in this case an Aunt Lucretia), but determined to be self-sufficient, is a familiar one. While never directly derivative, Four Sisters: Enid summons up classic tales of siblings left mostly or entirely to their own devices, from The Enchanted Castle to The Boxcar Children, from I Capture the Castle to Little Women. Despite its classic sensibility, Four Sisters is a modern story, complete with cell phones, teenage gatherings to watch horror movies on Halloween, and a particularly caring and maternal sister who secretly practices Muay Thai.
While the volume’s subtitle, Enid, indicates that it is indeed one installment in a series that will eventually feature more of the Verdelaine sisters, Enid’s volume does not focus entirely on the title character herself. Much of the book is spent rolling out a subplot featuring the Verdelaines’ cousin Dove, who comes to visit and, while Enid does achieve an adventure of her own, the story in fact features each of the sisters to varying degrees.
Four Sisters in its graphic novel form is an adaptation of French novel Quatre Soeurs by Malika Ferdjoukh. Ferdjoukh collaborated with artist Cati Baur to create the graphic novel, and the result is a pleasure to behold. Baur’s art at turns summons up the moody atmosphere of France in the fall and the cozy warmth of being warm inside with family when outside the house is being lashed with rain. Furthermore, whether she’s illustrating a visit from the Verdelaines’ ghostly parents or playfully changing the expression of one character’s Mickey Mouse shirt to reflect the characters’ own emotions, Bauer’s art is able to strike both somber and humorous notes with ease. The full-color illustrations appear to be made with pen and ink and watercolors, though there is no artist’s note to confirm this supposition, and proceed in a mixed format of panels and full-page images. Speech is indicated with speech bubbles, whereas narrative text floats in soft-edged bubbles and is further set off by being written in a different font than the speech.
Recommended for larger graphic novel collections or collections with a more international focus, this book is a must-have, sure to enchant wistful teens and nostalgic adults alike.
Four Sisters, vol. 1: Enid by Malika Ferdjoukh Art by Cati Baur ISBN: 9781684051960 IDW Publishing, 2018
Classic Fantastic is our series of features on the classics of the format—please check out our other picks for the most important titles, in terms of appeal, innovation, and storytelling, that every library should own.
What’s it about?
The Eternal Champion is a duck whose magic sword wants him dead. His best friend is a vegetarian dragon named Marvin, his mentor a scheming underlord, his friends steal organs (magically), and he’s fighting to preserve a monstrous dungeon that only exists to tempt and destroy the heroically inclined. Welcome to the darkly comic Dungeon, an epic series of anthropomorphic fantasy heroes created by European comics powerhouses Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim that—in spite of a central conceit lifted from the Dungeon Keeper computer game series—makes post-modern satire and storytelling its serious business.
In the U.S., European comics are usually seen either as children’s comics (Tintin, Moomin, Sardine in Space) or literary fare (The Hunting Party, The Rabbi’s Cat). Sfar in particular has created books that fit into both categories, but in the sprawling Dungeon series you can see the shape of an ambition that combines and transcends traditional audiences and genres. The first volume, Duck Heart, combines sword-and-sorcery with a satirical plot, as cowardly antihero Herbert the Duck accidentally kills a barbarian hero and goes on a quest in his place, attempting to save the Dungeon that employs him from the more sinister and ambitious evil known as the Hooded Ones. The story mines tropes from fantasy novels and Dungeons & Dragons freely, populating the Dungeon and its world with a bewildering variety of wizards, giants, necromancers, brutes, vampires, and the like, but always putting its own twist on the various monsters and imbuing them with personalities and even souls, while “innocent” bystanders like the nearby village of xenophobic rabbits are more mean-spirited than the worst of the Dungeon’s beasts.
Sfar and Trondheim grow their world in unexpected ways from what looks to be a predictable seed, letting it sprout into multiple timelines with separate protagonists. The stories focused on Herbert and Marvin’s partnership fall into the Zenith timeline, stories of the Dungeon at its height. The Early Years tells the story of the feared Dungeon Keeper’s naive youth as an innocent intellectual named Hyacinth, how he became the masked hero known as The Nightshirt, and how the Dungeon grew from the blend of his bitterness and good intentions. Twilight tells the story of not only the Dungeon’s inevitable decay but its entire world’s, how power has ensnared Herbert, trapping him between choices that seem monstrous and worse. Dungeon Parade deals with Herbert and Marvin’s minor adventures, largely unimportant to the central plot. Monstres is spread out between the separate timelines, largely telling the stories of minor characters, though also looping back to Herbert and his fate in Dungeon: Monstres,vol. 2: The Dark Lord. The intricate story structure makes the series difficult to collect, or even to know where to start reading—I recommend Zenith, then Early Years, then Twilight, with Parade and most of Monstresoptional—but is also rewarding, as it allows the creators to establish their characters before demonstrating their unexpected origins, choices, and fates. It also lets readers feel for entities that might come across as unfeeling monstrosities if we had no idea where they came from or how they arrived.
Despite a relatively high barrier to entry, the series is beyond worthwhile. Trondheim and Sfar are both masters of the comics medium, both with iconically messy-but-detailed styles that allow them to create a relatable emotional picture as well as a literal one. While the subject matter may sometimes seem cliched—magical heroes, wizards, and the end of the world– their characters have hidden depths; they live in emotional worlds as nuanced and detailed as the imaginative landscapes that surround them.
It should be noted that Sfar and Trondheim are not the only creators involved with the series, and in later volumes they increasingly farmed out work to other talented artists like Manu Larcenet and Boulet. Even with skilled replacements, the series creators’ presence on these volumes is sometimes missed, as their skills as storytellers and visual comedians are hard to top. Also missing from some of the later volumes is the series approachable sense of humor—Heartbreaker, the 3rd volume of the Monstres series is particularly bereft of laughs. Even so, this smart dark fantastic comedy is worth reading and returning to many times, and is an asset in almost any public library’s Adult comics collection. It is also worth considering for academic collections with an interest in the intersection between European pop culture and post-modernism—a niche to be sure, but one worth studying. Simplifying these books’ collection is the fact that Zenith, Early Years, and Twilight have all been assembled into boxed sets, with the most recent reprint of Twilightin 2017. These volumes are all that are really necessary for a good Dungeon collection, but each volume is worth collecting, both on its own merits and as it enriches the overall story.
Legendary creators working together to create an epic satire/parable/adventure? Yes please!
Lovers of fantasy, comedy, and avant-garde comics will all find plenty to enjoy in Dungeon.
Why should you own this?
Smart, funny, and off most readers radar—this is a series that libraries can shine a spotlight on and get great responses.
Dungeon by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim Art by various Dungeon: Zenith, vol. 1 ISBN: 9781561634019 Dungeon: The Early Years, vol. 1 ISBN: 9781561634392 Dungeon: Twilight, vol. 1 ISBN: 9781561634606 NBM Publishing, 2005 – 2016 Publisher Age Rating: (16+, Adult)
If given the chance, what would you say to your future self? Or your past self? Would teenage you be happy with what adult you has accomplished? In Luisa: Now and Then, originally by French artist Carole Maurel, and translated by Nanette McGuinness and adapted by Mariko Tamaki, these hypothetical questions become real life for Luisa Arambol.
One evening in the 1990s, 15-year-old Luisa falls asleep while on her way home, only to wake up and find herself in 2013. She has the wrong money, doesn’t know how to get home, and has no idea how she ended up in Paris instead of her small French suburb.
With the help of a kind woman named Sasha, Luisa tries to figure out what has happened. As she regroups in Sasha’s apartment, it is discovered that another Luisa Arambol happens to live next door. Slowly, the two Luisas realize they are actually the same person, just decades apart.
With a touch of magical realism, Luisa: Now and Then explores real life issues and dilemmas including identity, sexuality, and friendship. Both Luisas are struggling with the same things, mostly their sexuality and their relationship with family. They also believe they have everything figured out, when actually they have only figured out how to repress their feelings and desires.
A weird thing happens as they spend time together, though. Gradually, each starts to act like the other Luisa. Older Luisa starts to be immature, energetic, and dramatic. Young Luisa is calm, rational, and easy-going. Add in Sasha and the feelings both Luisas have towards her and things start to get complicated. It’s an interesting take on an old trope. Maurel’s illustrations are beautiful. Her use of color particularly enhances the story. Flashbacks to the 1990s are in a slight sepia tones and whenever the Luisas touch, splashes of maroon and orange explode on the page. It’s unique, but effective.
The heart of the story is Luisa, both versions, finding herself. She has a romantic moment with another girl as a teenager and you can tell that she has been running from that the rest of her life. We get to watch as Luisa stands up to her mom and admits who she is—a person who can fall in love with other women. She’s messy and confused, but lovable and relatable. It’s a story of self-discovery and self-acceptance all wrapped in a colorful, enjoyable graphic novel.
Luisa: Now and Then was published by Life Drawn, which is a new imprint from the European publisher Humanoids. Life Drawn focuses on personal stories instead of Humanoids’ usual sci-fi and fantasy. With wide crossover appeal, Luisa’s story will be enjoyed by teens and adults alike.
Luisa: Now and Then by Carole Maurel, Mariko Tamaki Art by Carole Maurel ISBN: 9781594656439 Humanoids – Life Drawn, 2018
The Complete Okko by Hub follows the story of a young boy named Tikku as he meets and joins the traveling party of the ronin, Okko. If you’re like me, you might be going into this book not knowing what a ronin is. A quick online search explained that a ronin is a masterless samurai. The series is divided into five cycles, each more or less representing an element. The cycles are divided into two parts and were originally each published separately. We first meet Tikku in The Cycle of Water. He’s sitting in a tree watching his geisha sister, Little Carp, as she meets with a man. Shortly after this scene, Tikku’s sister is kidnapped and he embarks on a mission to save her. So how does he end up with the legendary Okko? Tikku pledges himself to the ronin Okko in exchange for his help in saving Little Carp. Joining Tikku and Okko on this quest are Noshin, the saké-loving monk, and Noburo, whose face is always hidden behind a red mask. Noshin also happens to be the man that Little Carp was with at the start of our journey with Tikku; he also has a vested interested in saving Little Carp.
What follows is a funny, action-packed, and sometimes brutal first volume in The Complete Okko. Tikku’s journey with Okko and the rest of their party continues in The Cycle of Earth, The Cycle of Air, The Cycle of Fire, and finally The Cycle of Emptiness. Among these pages readers will find vampires, giant combat robots, elemental spirits, and a multitude of other demons.
This series was originally released in the early 2000s so you’ll probably encounter people who’ve already read Okko. So then, what’s the draw for readers who have already enjoyed this samurai fantasy saga?
The Complete Okko boasts a whopping 120 pages of previously unreleased content. For people new to the series, adults interested in tales of samurai and demon hunters, or anyone who enjoys a thinly-veiled Japanese setting (welcome to the empire of Pajan!) will enjoy this. While inspired by feudal Japan and samurais, keep in mind that this is still a fantasy world. The author, Hub, is from France. The characters are over the top and I didn’t feel that Okko was an attempt at an accurate depiction of samurai and Japanese culture, but at the same time I also did not find that there was any stereotyping going on to be concerned about. There is some nudity, and as I mentioned before, violence, but I think mature teens would still enjoy this title along with the rest of its adult audience.
The art in Okko is beautiful, but it is also a lot more; I was constantly surprised at how thoughtful the art is. Take for example the opening sequence: we’re treated to a scene at sunset; a tree lingers over a house where we’ll find Little Carp. It’s in this tree that we’ll first see Tikku. As the opening sequence closes, the last panel closes with a scene that mimics Tikku’s opening; we see the same tree now empty and the same house where we met Little Carp, but we see everything from a new angle. The sky is grey. The house is destroyed. It’s a really beautiful example of the cyclical imagery that will follow throughout the comic and a perfect example of the power of art in comics.
A note to my fellow Canadians: Did you know that Okko was originally published in French? I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for a great French title to add to my reader’s advisory repertoire that isn’t a title translated from English. Okko is absolutely one to add to your list of options if you have the French volumes in your collection.
The Complete Okko by Hub ISBN: 9781684150434 Archaia/Boom! Studios, 2018
This two-part graphic novel/illustrated prose hybrid introduces 10-year-old Cici, a would-be author with a nose for a good mystery. In part 1, Cici is intrigued by the sight of a man carrying paint buckets through the woods near the “hideout” she shares with her best friends, Lena and Erica. The mystery deepens when she notices that the man, who regularly walks on the same route through the woods, is also sometimes carrying animals in cages. Cici evades her disapproving mother and pushes her friends to corroborate her fibs as she tries to figure out what the man’s story could be.
Part 2 begins several weeks after the end of part 1. Summer vacation is beginning, and Cici is keen to sniff out another mystery. She finds it when she notices a woman who goes to the library every week to return a book, only to check it out again a few minutes later. This woman is searching the book for answers about the past, and Cici is sure she’s just the girl to dig up those answers. However, Cici’s previous patterns of using lies and manipulation on her friends and family intensify until she gets a wake-up call from her neighbor and mentor, Mrs. Flores.
Cici’s big character flaw—the fact that she treats everyone in her life like a character in a story she’s writing, rather than real people with feelings that should be respected—is portrayed realistically and makes the moral of the stories come off as less didactic than it could have been. Also, the mysteries that drive the two plots are very gentle and simple. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to young mystery fans if it weren’t for two disturbing elements.
Cici describes Erica at the beginning as someone who complains a lot. However, with a closer look, it’s clear that Erica is simply strong-minded and doesn’t hesitate to object to Cici’s disregard for her friends’ feelings. At times when Erica feels included and respected, she is portrayed in the illustrations as smiling and playful. When you consider that Erica is the only black person in this entire book (crowd scenes included), Cici’s portrayal of her as the squeaky wheel is troubling. At best, Erica’s presence in the story is a “sassy black friend” character (a tired stereotype), and at worst, because of her token status, it could be interpreted as a negative portrayal of black people in general.
Secondly, as a public librarian, I found a major plot point in part 2 upsetting. In trying to solve the mystery of the woman with the library book, Cici travels to the library with a dropped checkout slip with the woman’s name on it in hand. She interviews the librarian, and in response to Cici’s questions, the librarian gives her the title and author of the book the woman checks out every week, in addition to a detailed description of the woman’s weekly routine. Since the author of this graphic novel is French, I’m not sure whether he is just ignorant of the high importance librarians place on the privacy of their patrons, or whether the norms are different in France. Either way, to most American public librarians, the librarian character’s actions are a gross breach of ethics.
The artwork is by far the most appealing part of this graphic novel. Neyret’s illustrations do beautiful things with light, giving a soft, warm glow to Cici’s world. The drawings in every panel are rich and detailed, with backgrounds especially breathtaking in watercolor. There are no firm edges to the panels, further softening the look of each page. The illustrated prose sections of the book are equally interesting; a mix of newspaper articles, Cici’s rounded printing, and small sketches and margin notes add appealing and varied elements.
These objections I outlined above are the only things that would keep me from recommending this book to fans of the Thea Stilton graphic novels, since they have many other elements in common, like their intrepid main characters and gentle mysteries.
Cici’s Journal: The Adventures of a Writer-in-Training by Joris Chamblain, translated by Carol Klio Burrell Art by Aurelie Neyret ISBN: 9781626722484 First Second, 2017 Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
Seraphin’s mother died in an attempt to study the aether from her hot air balloon, and the potential of this mysterious, invisible, and deadly substance has obsessed Seraphin since. One day, Seraphin’s father, Professor Archibald Dulac, gets a note that the king of Bavaria has recovered his wife’s log book from her last flight, also included in the note is a one-way train ticket to Bavaria. However, at the train station, Professor Dulac and his son are confronted by Prussians and barely escape.
When they arrive in Bavaria, Professor goes straight to work for the king as the lead engineer on the king’s pontoon, a surprisingly solitary spaceship with quarters for the king, an orchestra for him to hear music, and that’s about it. Meanwhile, Seraphin befriends the gamekeeper’s children, Hans and Sophie. The children uncover a Prussian spy who is close to the Bavarian king and wants access to the king’s aether technology. Will the spy get the technology?
What’s spectacular in the artwork is the attention to architecture in all of its forms, from the more mundane, urban train stations of Paris to the fairytale castles of Bavaria. For a book that’s about characters who love technology, its power, and its promise, it makes sense that the columns and archways of the castle occasionally spill out into the gutters of the page. That out-of-panel attention to blueprints and maps not only gives the readers a new way of reading, but it also furthers the plot: when the reader sees a map of Germany’s various kingdoms, it helps explain Prussia’s militarism later in the story. When the reader sees a floor plan of the Bavarian king’s pontoon, the reader can appreciate the king’s desire to be removed from his political life and cast in a fantasy world.
As a whole, though, the love for adventure undermines the story. Seraphin’s obsession with aether and his motivation to discover more about what happened to his mother is developed well at the beginning of the story, but that character line diminishes when the action begins. Hans and Sophie have potential to round Seraphin out and present other complications in his world, but they never develop beyond sidekicks along for the ride.
This richly imagined and mildly historical middle grade adventure will appeal to fans of comics like Compass South by Hope Larson and NewsPrints by Ru Xu. This story was translated from French and will be published in two parts, with the next book to be published by First Second in September 2018. Since the first one ends in a sort of intermission, I would encourage librarians to wait for both volumes to be translated into English before purchasing. However, if you work with a French-speaking population, as I do, you may want to consider purchasing the books in French if that option is available for you.
One final note: with an 11 ¼ X 8 ½ trim size, these books may not fit on some library shelves, as it’s an usual trim size for a children’s comic. You may want to plan accordingly!
Castle in the Stars, vol. 1: The Space Race of 1869 by Alex Alice ISBN: 9781626724938 Macmillan, First Second, 2017 Publisher Age Rating: 10-14
As author and artist David Prudhomme wanders through the world famous Louvre Museum in Paris, he notices not only the enormity of the museum, but also people’s interactions with both each other and the artwork. Through those observations, he comments on how our relationships have evolved and the societal impact technology has had on us.
Cruising Through the Louvre doesn’t have a traditional storyline, instead it simply follows Prudhomme as he explores the museum and its dwellings. The closest he comes to generating a plot is the social commentary he makes on its visitors while talking to his partner Jeanne on his cell phone (which is annoying given he is in a museum and would have functioned better with her physically present instead). While in the museum, Prudhomme notices how its visitors have a lack of connection with the art—they’re more interested in taking pictures and posing with it over anything else. Thanks to technology, people are too busy trying to create and capture moments rather than just living in them. The way in which we value art is no longer based on the art itself, but upon what we can get out of it, such as a funny selfie we can show others.
Along those lines, Prudhomme finds humor in the literal way life imitates art. From a tired visitor unintentionally mirroring a sitting statue to a mother and her child posing next to a portrait of a man holding an animal, nearly everyone in the museum resembles a piece of art, causing them to become living art. Everything begins to blend together. It was a hidden gem he stumbled upon without looking. Prudhomme is also extremely self-aware and sees himself within the panels of a comic, with the artwork serving as graphic’s panels and the various rooms as different volumes within in. It’s all very meta.
Aside from his observations, the end of the graphic includes two pages of facts about the building, works, visitors, and workers. For anyone interested in the Louvre’s history or wanting some research, this is a handy and necessary tool to have.
The art is both literally and figuratively what the real focus of the graphic is about. Prudhomme illustrates the graphic with colored pencil using soft strokes and linework not fully defined, which in turn gives the entire piece a smudgy, dreamlike look to it. This is done to further emphasize how the lines between fiction and reality are blurred. The main issue with the lack of definition, though, is that images blur too well together and make it difficult to make out what is happening. While it’s understandable why he utilizes this technique, the lack of focus makes it hard to find a focal point and loses the reader’s attention. Readers will find themselves skipping over pages.
The panels where he does give more definition to his subjects look like pieces of art that are frozen in time and beautifully fit in with their surroundings. Similarly, his artistry shines when replicating the artwork found in the Louvre. It makes the reader feel as though they are looking at the original piece. Prudhomme also does a great job at capturing how busy the museum can get—you feel claustrophobic just by looking at the panels. Had he spent more time detailing each panel and only doing a few out of focus pieces, his message about society would’ve had a larger impact.
While the idea and concept behind Cruising Through the Louvre is a great one, it unfortunately does not succeed as well as it should. For anyone who has visited the Louvre, it’s a great book to read and reminisce with; for everyone else, you don’t really get the importance or magnitude of the museum—it looks just like another art museum. You’re left with the impression that it’s a crowded place to be and nothing about it makes you want to visit. With his lack of focus and underdeveloped storyline, the graphic novel is best suited for adults and students in Art History classes who could appreciate the art while ignoring the text.
Cruising Through the Louvre by David Prudhomme Art by David Prudhomme ISBN: 9781561639908 NBM, 2016 Publisher Age Rating: Adult
It’s also a thin line between fiction and non-fiction in Olivier Morel and Mael’s Walking Wounded: Uncut Stories from Iraq.
This graphic novel follows Morel from the moment he begins to conduct research on a possible documentary about Iraq War veterans to the movie’s premiere at the 2011 Chicago International Film Festival. It is also a story of the veterans’ stories.
By the time these stories arrive to the reader, they have been filtered through at least three different lenses: the lens of memory, the lens of Morel’s documentary On the Bridge, and the lens of Mael’s pen and ink. Artist Mael recognizes that it is much more effective to capture the emotional truths of PTSD and veteran suicide through surrealism rather than to stay faithful to the non-fiction narrative.
Mael’s art is absurd, yet purposeful: in one scene, a giant inflatable Santa stands imposingly against a white background as Morel strikes up conversation with Ryan, a war veteran. “Everything pisses me off. Especially me. And Santa Claus,” Ryan mutters. As Ryan begins to share his memories with Morel, Santa Claus gently floats away in the following panels, only to be replaced with the harsher memories of seeing dead civilians by the roadside in Iraq.
“Sure, it takes me back to Iraq. But it’s like a movie,” Ryan says. “I go back to hell, but I’m remaking the movie, seeing it from another angle.”
At times, this plot tends to get lost in its stories, and only a handful of veterans in the book appear fully realized as more than just their war stories. I also found myself more curious, too, about the story of the story—what happened after the documentary premiered? How did it change the landscape of veterans affairs? What’s still the same?
Nevertheless, for readers who enjoy non-fiction war stories, this graphic novel is a solid addition to the canon.
Walking Wounded: Uncut Stories from Iraq by Olivier Morel Art by Mael ISBN: 9781561639823 NBM, 2015 Publisher Age Rating: 13+
“Across the white immensity of an eternal winter, from one end of the frozen planet to the other, there travels a train that never stops” (p. 3).
And so the first volume of Snowpiercer opens, like a macabre picture book. Slowly revealing mysterious clues along the way, the reader begins to understand that sometime in the future an environmental catastrophe (possibly set off by war and bombs) killed the sun and plunged the Earth into another Ice Age. Out in the elements, people can freeze to death in mere seconds. Luckily for some, a newfangled train, the Snowpiercer, was in construction at the time of the event—a luxury train that could travel extremely long distances without ever needing to stop to refuel. The remains of humanity now occupy the train’s 1,001 cars.
Our story opens when Proloff, an escapee from the lower-class rear of the train, is captured by the military-like personnel in charge and quarantined. He meets Adeline, a middle-class citizen who is part of a resistance group lobbying to allow the dwellers of the rear train to move from their overcrowded quarters to the better conditions of the front cars. Adeline, hearing that a rear passenger managed to make his way up front, wants to speak with Proloff about how he did it and possibly use him as a figurehead for her cause, but she just winds up in quarantine with him herself. After a few days (in which they begin to fall in love), they are taken to meet Colonel Krimson. Their journey through the cars takes days and Proloff and Adeline are shocked to discover the contents of the upper-class cars as they see certain luxuries they first thought were long extinct.
Krimson tells the duo that Snowpiercer is beginning to slow down. He wants to start the process of moving the lower-class passengers to the front of the car so they can disconnect those cars and lose some heavy weight. With Adeline left to go off and tell members of her movement the good news, Proloff discovers the Colonel’s treachery—he is going to kill Proloff and disconnect the cars anyway with all those annoying troublemakers aboard. As Proloff struggles to reach Adeline and warn others of their impending doom, he discovers that there are a lot more secrets hidden aboard the Snowpiercer and the fate of humankind might now rest in his hands.
Originally published in French as Le Transperceneige in 1982, this story seems fit for the current popularity of dystopian worlds in both fiction and graphic novels. The hardcover book is slightly oversized and features glossy pages with crisp black and white illustrations. The illustrations do a good job expressing the bleakness of the world in which humanity’s survivors now find themselves. This is a great choice for those who enjoy stories of futuristic worlds gone awry which showcase strong heroes who don’t always see happy endings (such as V for Vendetta). The story of Snowpiercer was continued in 1999 and 2000 by Benjamin Legrand (Jacques Lob died in 1990) and Jean-Marc Rochette in two volumes entitled The Explorers and The Crossing, which were released by Titan Books as the companion volume to this title.
While this is a story that will greatly appeal to teens and adults alike, there are a few elements that might spark controversy. The tale is bleak and depressing—nothing happy happens. Some parents who like to protect their children from the harsher parts of the world might not appreciate the overall tone of the book. However, I know many teens who want to see more stories they can enjoy that don’t have all the conflicts wrapped up in a happily ever after ending within the last ten pages of a book. This book will get teens invested in the story and get them thinking.
There are also occurrences of language, violence, and nudity in the story. The people of the upper-class call the people in the rear of the train “tail-fuckers” and have no regard for their quality of life. When Proloff is captured boarding the cars in the middle of the train, he is roughed up a bit. There is death—while not violent per se (the person freezes), it is disturbing and sad at the same time. Nudity appears when Proloff and Adeline are traveling to the upper cars and see that rich men enjoy spending time doing the only thing they can to kill time—have sex with prostitutes in a brothel-like car. Proloff and Adeline also have sex at one point in the book.
Overall, while there may be a few elements of the graphic novel that some might find objectionable, the story trumps it all. It is bleak, heart-wrenching, and philosophical all at once. I would recommend it for purchase in either adult or teen collections and recommend it to readers who enjoy books that will make them uncomfortable and get them thinking about the world here and now and where we are headed.
Snowpiercer, vol. 1: The Escape by Jacques Lob Art by Jean-Marc Rochette ISBN: 9781782761334 Titan Books, 2014 Publisher Age Rating: 16+
Illustrator Isabelle Arsenault recently won the illustrious Canadian Governor’s General Award for her illustrations for the original French publication of this title. Set in Quebec of the mid 1970s, with Fanny Britt’s exceptional text superbly translated into English by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ourliou, the book is a definite winner in all aspects. It is a thing of beauty with evocative black illustrations on mostly grey toned pages punctuated with the infrequent inclusion of colour that blooms gloriously to a satisfying conclusion. It is ironic, perhaps, that the beauty is wrapped around the very heavy theme of bullying and body image among teenage girls. Hélène has not always been ostracised, but now the loneliness, the hurtful actions of former friends, and her negative self-image is only managed through her absorption into books, currently Jane Eyre. Hélène’s interpretation of the novel is highly reflective of her own voice and thoughts as an individual, highlighted by those infrequent bursts of colour mentioned previously with the full page panel spreads cloaked in soft pastels and introspection. Her focus on Jane’s slenderness and wisdom is offset by Hélène’s respect for her own family and her mother’s unconditional support, although she is not aware of the bullying that her daughter is experiencing.
Everything is magnified when the entire class is treated to a nature camping adventure. Hélène needs a new bathing suit which makes her look, in her own eyes, like a sausage. She ends up being in the outcast tent at the camp, silently ignoring everyone else as they ignore her until the appearance of a fox changes everything. “With the fox out front, the outcasts’ tent is transformed into a tent of miracles” (79). The expressive and allusive fox is portrayed in full colour and represents, ultimately, hope, friendship and contentment.
Hélène is illustrated with an average build that is disconcerting when contrasted with the negative jibes against her and her acceptance of their truth. She is an appealing character who needs to be coddled and cuddled instead of having to face the attacks on her own. Her resolve, bolstered with her identification with the Jane of her reading, if not necessarily of the original novel, is courageous and engaging. Her quirky character is vividly expressed through the facial expressions, body language, and colour of the illustrations, while her voice is equally lucidly articulated through the hand-lettered font and exquisite translation from the French text. The universality and timelessness of the story is balanced with references to streets and other markers of the city of Montreal and the record player and recordings of several decades past. The historical aspect of the tale, accompanied by the large picture book format of the graphic novel, aids in anchoring the age-old problems of the past securely in the present. Cruelty of classmates, negative body images, lack of friendships, and feelings of powerlessness and inevitability flourished before, are with us still, and quite possibly will be in the future. Recognizing the power of literature, friendship, and self-awareness triumphs and trumps this negativity and is the essence of the gift of this engaging graphic novel.
Jane, the fox & me by Fanny Britt Art by Isabelle Arsenault ISBN: 9781554983605 Groundwood, 2013 Publisher Age Rating: 10-16