NEW NBM

NEW NBM

Written and Drawn by Various

Published by NBM

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Three fine new efforts from the NBM gang…

dogbuttscov

Cartoonist Jim Benton sees his Reddit work collected together for the first time in DOG BUTTS AND LOVE. AND STUFF LIKE THAT. AND CATS. The pieces in question range from single-panel gags to short sequential pieces, but the thing they share in common is the level of intelligence and cleverness on display. He is consistently darkly funny, often touching a chord with a tough truth at the heart of the cartoon, such as one amazing effort that finds a man who has been a total moron his entire life celebrating the fact that people believe he is wise just because he’s old now. My personal favorite involves a child whose mother guilts him into eating his food because there are starving children elsewhere actually writing one of those hungry kids to tell him what a jerk he is because of how his mother made him suffer. It’s a damn-near perfect encapsulation of the entitlement generation. The whole book is worth your time.

magentacov

Nik Guerra’s MAGENTA: NOIR FATALE actually comes out of the Eurotica imprint, but there is no explicit sex involved. Instead, the story revolves around Magenta and her friend Lucretia, two burlesque-style models who also work as investigators. Their exploits take them into a case involving a number of missing models and the sicko who is using them for sport at his estate. The story isn’t anything you haven’t seen before – pretty standard stuff. But the art? Whoa. Guerra’s work is absolutely stunning. His evocative black& white figures absolutely jump off of the page. Also, the level of detail extends far beyond what you would expect from material of this nature – his backgrounds are textured nicely, giving an almost 3D quality to the book. The dialogue has some zip to it, and he takes care to make sure that Magenta and Lucretia are never victims. They are strong, controlled women. A notch above the usual, for sure.

bilia-LOUVRE

Last but not least is the latest entry in the Louvre Collection: PHANTOMS OF THE LOUVRE by legendary writer/artist Enki Bilal. The old master took photographs at the Louvre, printed them on canvas, then added his phantoms. With that, he wrote their stories – 22 of them. Look, I could spend a lot of breath telling you how amazing this stuff is, but honestly: why? It’s Enki-friggin’-Bilal drawing and writing about the greatest museum on Earth! What the hell else do you want from comics? Unless your taste resides solely in your mouth, you need this like you need oxygen.



NEW NBM

NEW NBM
Written and Drawn by Christian Durieux and Etienne Davodeau
Published by NBM


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Let’s talk about the good stuff. I mean the really good stuff.

Two new graphic novels from my old employer, NBM Publishing, recently crossed my desk, and not only are they two of the best books I’ve seen from the company in a long time, they are also two of the best books of the year so far.

First up is AN ENCHANTMENT by Christian Durieaux. This is the latest in the series of graphic novels commissioned by the Louvre, and it might be the best one yet. Here we meet the director of the famed museum, as he faces the night of his retirement party. But unwilling to go gently into that good night, he finds himself distracted by a young woman who has evaded security and has made her way into the dark corners of the building. As they tour the place, two conflicting ideas arise in the reader: the young woman is truly a living muse and is giving lift to the breaking heart of this man OR she does not exist, and he is experiencing a delusion as his life concludes on this final night of work. Whatever interpretation you ultimately subscribe to, it is a magnificent piece of work. The art is lovely, the characters and dialogue are rich, and the book sweeps you up and carries you along with its verve. Each entry in the Louvre series has been unique, and has challenged its readers as a work of art should. This one stands above the others in its power to engage.

As someone with a degree in creative non-fiction, and someone who writes that form, I regard those that do immersion journalism well with tremendous respect. The commitment required is extraordinary. So when I tell you that Etienne Davodeau’s THE INITIATES is one of the finest examples of immersion journalism in recent memory, I mean that with all due gravity. Davideau had a brilliant idea: immerse himself in the life of a winemaker friend, Richard Leroy, and in turn, have Richard learn the life of a working comics artist. For a year, Etienne would work the vineyard, studying the art of growing the grapes, fermenting the wine, learning about soil composition, and more. In that time, he began supplying Richard with graphic novels to read and taking him on trips to comic conventions, introducing him to the top artists working in the field today. To say that each man gets an extraordinary education would be an understatement. Honest, educational, entertaining, and pricelessly unique, THE INITIATES is a book that sticks with you long after you put it down. The intelligent reader knows that real life can be just as captivating as fiction, if not more, and this book is a brilliant example of that. An amazing piece of work.


NEW GRAPHIC NOVELS

NEW GRAPHIC NOVELS
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Three spiffy new hardcovers have hit my desk lately. Let’s take a gander at them, shall we?

I was a huge fan of the Louvre-inspired graphic novel series even before I went to work for NBM Publishing, and I remain one after my departure. Thus, I was pleased to see another entry as ROHAN AT THE LOUVRE hit shelves recently. As with each of these books, it is radically different than the previous one, and in this case, than any of the others, period. ROHAN brings manga to the world of the Louvre, and Japanese artist Hirohiko Araki is the first non-French artist to participate in the endeavor. The story itself also ventures into horror territory, melding Euro and Japanese influences sweetly. Rohan, an artist, meets a mysterious woman who tells him of a painting made with the blackest ink ever, a story he forgets until one day he visits the Louvre and tries to see the painting. There, tragedy and terror unfold as the consequences of seeing the piece set in for Rohan and those around him. Everything here works; the art is lovely, the colors are striking, the story is interesting, and the presentation (hardcover and in proper right-to-left format) is excellent. The Louvre series continues to be absolutely magic for readers.

GENETIKS (Archaia) is also quite visually striking, and has the usual excellent production design I’ve come to expect from the publisher. The story is the real standout here, though. Thomas Hale, a research in a bio-lab, had given the company a blood sample when he started work. Unknown to him, they have been attempting to decode the human genome, and in Thomas’s case, they actually succeed. However, in order for the company to protect its assets, they want him to do something highly unusual: sign himself over to them as their property. Thus, he becomes privately owned by his employer. (Raise your hand if you think that turns out well. No?) Protest groups, friends, conspiracies, and machinations upon machinations… the whole mix is here, and writer Richard Marazano pulls out all the stops to keep the pace moving quickly and keep the reader guessing as to what is really going on. The art by Jean-Michel Ponzio is heavily photo-referenced, but never stiff, and it helps the story flow. The one real downside here is that this is listed as volume one, and you get left with an awfully large cliffhanger. Dunno when part two ships, but “soon” would be good.

While it seems to be sweeping up geeks and non-geeks alike, I have never quite gotten the fever for George R.R. Martin’s GAME OF THRONES (Bantam). It just isn’t my thing, in neither prose nor television. Thus, I’m probably not the best person to tell you about the graphic novel either. That said… this beautiful-looking book certainly presents the material well. Writer Daniel Abraham does a solid job of taking the material and shifting it to the comics medium and making it understandable and accessible and artist Tommy Patterson does effective work in keeping the storytelling clear and effective. This hardcover collection of the Dynamite Entertainment single issues gets a number of added bonuses, including a preface from Martin himself, and a lengthy sketch and design gallery. If you’re a fan, this is something you would definitely want to have on your bookshelf.



SKY OVER THE LOUVRE

THE SKY OVER THE LOUVRE
Written by Jean-Claude Carriere and Bernar Yslaire and Drawn by Bernar Yslaire
Published by NBM

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Reviewer’s note: I left my role with NBM publishing at the end of 2010 and no longer receive any form of compensation from the company.

One of the most unique but fruitful graphic novel publishing ventures in the last five years has been the series of works commissioned by the Louvre. The output has been stunning- GLACIAL PERIOD, MUSEUM VAULTS, and ON THE ODD HOURS have each been visual feasts, and their stories have been captivating. Now the fourth in the series has arrived, and it is easily on par with the previous efforts. THE SKY OVER THE LOUVRE is an artistic tour-de-force, yet it also tells the most relatable story we’ve seen from these books so far.

SKY takes us back into the past. The French Revolution is in swing, and the Louvre has passed from being the private playground of the monarchy to being a public museum. The citizens tribunal that decided who would met the guillotine was doing its dirty work, led by Robespierre The Incorruptible, and the great artist David was participating alongside him. David, though, had more than reforming France on his mind; he was a painter, and painters paint. Thus, while he was happy to take on commissions that were meant to advance the goal of The Terror (which is what Robespierre’s reign would come to be known as) he was also heavily concerned with the integrity of his work. Thus we come to the crux of the story here: David is commissioned to paint the new “supreme being” that Robespierre is hoping to use to help France start fresh. But David becomes obsessed with finishing a painting of a young boy named Bara who died trying to protect the nation from foreign invasion. That obsession bleeds into David’s personal obsession with using a young foreign boy for his model, even though he is strictly told he cannot.

Needless to say, things between Robespierre and David are heading for conflict.

What makes SKY work so well is that the creators do a superb job of helping the reader understand the timeframe in which the story takes place. The motivations, the social mores, the clothing, the abject terror… it leaps off the page and surrounds you as you go through the pages. They also use a very effective selection of real artworks in the backgrounds, lending not only authenticity but also added emotional heft to various scenes. We also get a strong sense of who David is and what is driving him; less so with Robespierre, but still enough that he feels rounded as a “character.”

The look of the book itself is remarkable. This is the first of the series to be printed in hardcover, and it is an oversized hardcover at that. Honestly, I’d like to see the company go back and reprint the earlier books in this same format so they could all sit together nicely on the shelf. Yslaire’s art is beautiful; his people are distinct, their body language tells the reader vital information, and the colors are a character unto themselves. I went through this book very slowly, taking it all in.

In short: highly recommended. Just like all the previous books in the Louvre series.




THE MUSEUM VAULTS

THE MUSEUM VAULTS
Written and Drawn by Marc-Antoine Mathieu
Published by
NBM

Eudeus Volumer is an expert in all things art-related, able to critique, organize, and understand the history of what he sees. Therefore, he is called to his greatest challenge, the organization of the vaults and sublevels at the Musee Du Revolu, an alternate reality/alternate Earth version of the Louvre. Little does Volumer know that the undertaking will introduce him not only to great works of art, but also great levels of absurdism.

This is the second in a series of four graphic novels actually commissioned by the Louvre itself, and it’s certainly a wildly different one than the first, Nicolas De Crecy’s GLACIAL PERIOD. Here, Mathieu puts his focus more on taking the piss out of the Louvre and the concept of museums and their caretakers themselves; as Volumer passes through this surrealist version of the great museum, he finds himself contending with such departments as the restoration workshop (which at one point worked to put limbs and noses on crumbled statues, and now works to restore them back to broken status or simply makes the restorations so ludicrous that patrons will understand what the originals looked like); the department of copies, which does precisely what it sounds like (though each copy is now considered art… but some copies are so precise that they’re considered “fakes”); and the frame depot, which has a caretaker who believes the frames to be just as important (if not more important) than whatever they surround. And along the way, he also meets another expert and begins to see exactly what his true destiny will be.

Mathieu has an interestingly stark art style, using black and white and gray tones with precision and grace. He keeps his characters simple, using his powerful gift for detail on the backgrounds and the museum environment. He also has a very dry sense of humor running through the book and through Volumer’s journey. Like De Crecy’s earlier book, this is a fascinating effort, and one any serious graphic novel reader will want to own.

Marc Mason