Markley’s Fevered Brain: Grands Livres

Wayne Markley

Wayne Markley


by Wayne Markley

This time I am looking at four French graphics novels that have recently been released in English for the first time, or parts of the series have been released in the past and the complete works are now being collected. All four of these books are excellent reads that deserve to be on everybody’s bookshelves, but sadly, they do not reach a wide audience due to the dominance of superheroes in America. All four of these books are as far as you can get from traditional superhero fare, with Valerian perhaps being the closest to a superhero adventure. While only Alack Sinner is marked for mature readers due to brief nudity and violence, none of these are really for younger readers as they are all designed for the reader looking for a solid story filled with brilliant storytelling and unique art. I must heap praise on the publishers of these four books for being brave enough to translate and release this work in English so we all have the opportunity to see such creative visions that are often lacking on these shores.

Alack Sinner: The Age of Innocence

Alack Sinner: The Age of Innocence


IDW recently released the first volume a two volume set finally collecting the complete of Alack Sinner, with the first book being called The Age of Innocence. Over the years a number of publishers have started to reprint this series by writer Carlos Sampayo and artist Jose Munoz (Catalan and Fantagraphics for example) but this massive collection from Eurocomics (an imprint of IDW, overseen by the great Dean Mullaney), will reprint all of the Alack Sinner stories from 1975 to the 1990s. Sampayo and Munoz did these stories until 1992 when then they started Joe’s Bar (a fixture in the Sinner series) with some of the same characters. Joe’s Bar became a much bigger international hit than Sinner. In France, there are eight volumes, all of which will be collected over these two volumes.

Alack Sinner is about a former cop who is now a private detective who likes to drink and works when he needs more money. It is set in New York in an unnamed time, likely the ‘70s, and while the storytelling in a hardboiled in the classic P.I. tradition (Raymond Chandler, etc.), Alack tends to be more of a Jim Rockford type of detective than a Sam Spade. Alack is older and looks like he has had a very rough life. He has a number of scars which, as far as I know, are never explained, and he has a burning hatred for crooked cops. The stories are both filled with passion and a sense of hurt. It is hard to read some of these stories as they are so painful due to the characters involved. The people around Alack tend to be broken and part of the outskirts of humanity. The art by Munoz is unique in that it looks like a funky Milt Caniff mixed with Alex Toth. At first it put me off but as you read along the art perfectly guides you around the streets and hellholes of Alack’s world in a very cinematic way. It is unlike anything you will see in modern American comics, but it works perfectly for this series. Both creators, Sampayo and Munoz, are Argentinian exiles who landed up in Europe and this sense of loss really comes through in their work. Coming in at almost 400 pages for $29.95 this book is a bargain. It is a great read for crime or drama fans or people looking for a really good comic book that are not the traditional capes and tights.

Valerian: The Complete Collection Vol. 1 HC

Valerian: The Complete Collection Vol. 1 HC


You may have heard about a little movie called Valerian that was a huge hit in Europe and just came to America. What you may not know (based on the sales of the books) is that the movie is based on a series of graphic novels by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres. The basic story is about a spatio-temperal agent and his female companion Laurieline. Valerian is a classic hero, who does what is asked of him even when it is not quite the right or honest thing to do, and Laurieline is his far smarter, sexier and creative partner in crime. Together they travel through time and space fighting crime and saving the universe. There is a great mix of humor and adventure in these stories with dollops of politics and religion thrown in for good measure. While there are 22 volumes so far in France, there have been 17 volumes released in America by Cinebooks. Unfortunately, a number of the earliest volumes have gone out of print. On the other hand, Cinebooks has recently released the first nine albums in deluxe full color hardcovers reprinting three volumes in each book. The books are beautiful in their design and quality and a reasonably priced way to read this thrilling strip. Each collection is about 160 pages and each and every page is filled with amazing illustrations of the future, alien races and cultures. Valerian is legendary in science-fiction circles for the influence the characters are drawn from (everybody from Isaac Asimov to Jack Vance) although the writer has always claimed his biggest influence was Ed McBain (a mystery writer). You can also see a great deal of Valerian’s concepts and ideas in the original Star Wars film and many science fiction films since then. The strip first started being published in France in November of 1967 and continues today. Mezieres art is a bit “cartoony” in these early volumes, but as the series went on it becomes more realistic, perhaps as the creators realized what a hit they had developed. These first three hardcovers are a great way to start to explore the world of Valerian and are a great read to boot!

Alone

Alone


Alone by Christophe Chaboute was just released in English by Gallery 13. Chaboute has been publishing work in France for since 1998 (he also did earlier work than that but 1998 is when he started publishing in the major magazines in France) and Alone is considered to be his masterpiece. Alone tells the tale of a hermit who lives in a lighthouse and never interacts with people. His supplies are dropped off and he never bothers to greet or talk with the delivery people and his only friend is his imagination. One day a new delivery boats arrives and seeks out the hermit and then his story start to come out. Like Alack Sinner, this is a powerfully moving story about loneness and despair, with elements of humor and joy. This is a long book, almost 400 pages, but it is a page turner and I could not put it down. By the time you get to the end nothing will ever be the same for the hermit, and I am not sure that is a good thing. The art style, again like Alack Sinner, is unlike anything you will see in American comics, yet it works perfectly for this story. It is in black and white which only adds to the sadness of the story as it unfolds. A very moving book that deserves all of the acclaim it has received and is truly a marvelous piece of work. Not to be read if you are feeling down.

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker


Josephine Baker is a biography of the famous entertainer by writer Jose-Luis Bocquet and artist Catel Muller. This is a true story that is filled with passion and love. It covers Baker’s life from 1906-1975. As a young woman she moves to France in the 1920s as a dancer and became an international superstar and the first black woman to gain such fame at the time. She also went on to live an amazing life which this book is able to capture over almost 500 pages. Ms. Muller’s art style reminds me of Jaime Hernandez which makes it easy to read and a joy to look at. This book was not only entertaining it was very educational, and as with all of these books is highly recommended. Josephine Baker is published by SelfMadeHero, a very small publisher so it may be a bit of a challenge to find.

This wraps up my trip through French graphic novels. I have barely touched the surface of what is available out there in France, and while the titles translated into English so far is very limited, their work is slowly being reprinted here in America. I love these books because they show the true storytelling potential of comic outside of Marvel and DC. Be it science fiction or historical fiction or drama, all of these books have a passion and power behind the storytelling that makes an impact on the reader that you do not immediately forget. I believe this is because these books are done with the interest of telling a story, not making enough issues to fill out a trade collection or tell a soap opera like in American comics, and the subjects range from animals to detectives to science fiction to daily life. Like the work coming out of Japan, Italy, the UK, and others parts of the world, I wish American readers would take a few moments to try some of this work from France, and around the world. I think they would be pleasantly surprised.

This wraps it up for time. Have you ever read any of these books? What do you think? Did you enjoy them as much as I did? What other countries comics do you enjoy? Why? I would like to know. I can be reached at MFBWAY@AOL.COM or on Facebook at Wayne Markley. Nothing I have written here reflects the thoughts or opinions of Westfield Comics or their employees. As always…

Thank you.

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