Our industry is full of the unheralded. And we, as comic fans, are never short on reminding those around us of it. You know the story: The greats in our industry aren't covered enough in the mainstream, the mid-level talents should be recognized as great and everyone has some pet, small-time creator whom they think is completely ignored by everyone else. Try being Hermann.
As with a slew of creators of not working in English, Hermann Huppen is not a recognizable name, even amongst seasoned readers. Despite having steady work for over four decades I had to do a little research into his bibliography. Comics be humbling, bro.
Written in 2007 and recently translated into English, Afrika focuses on Dario Ferrer, the cantankerous leader of a anti-poaching squad in a nondescript African country. Dario lives to protect the animals of the plain, and doesn't care for much else with a heartbeat. His day-to-day is interrupted by the arrival of journalist Charlotte, a naive European hoping to report on the poaching activities.
Hermann's story smolders at first, allowing the reader to delve into the lush landscapes and quiet characters who choose their words well. At first glance Dario seems to be the typical misanthrope, but through his interaction with Charlotte a deeper man emergences. Dario lives for his animals, yes, but he also lives among the people of Africa in general peace. He isn't a hermit. This same man who scorns civilization still exists among it. Fervor is a young man's game. As Dario tells his female companion when she comments on the everyday violence of the environment: "Not so long ago, I'd have told you some things about the so-call civilized world you're coming from… but I don't feel like it anymore. This cheetah kills only to feed."
Hermann's pacing is quick and without mercy. Maybe it's his style, maybe it's a European method of storytelling, but things feel too rapid sometimes and I just want to pause and look at the pretty pictures. I could be used to the decompression of major comics we've been seeing for the last ten years. One beauty of our beloved medium is that the reader can choose the intake bandwidth of the experience: You can read a page a day or thumb through it like a flipbook. But, while I choose my gait I not could help but to feel rushed along, especially when Hermann's talent mixed with the setting of the novel makes for art that I could stare at for miles.
Afrika's second and third act ratchet up the tension adequately, putting Dario and his cohort in present danger. The plot, and subsequent conclusion, don't evolve in a traditional format, but it works. One problem that simmered beneath the entire piece is the translated dialogue. It feels a little blocked-off and handcuffed at times. For the most part the character's personalities come across, but occasionally a line or two felt a little robotic.
Afrika is named for a place but it's about a character. Dario Ferrer will stick with me for some time, a Jonah Hex-archetype displaced by 10,000 miles and hundred years. I highly recommended this to anyone looking to step away from the current comics market and check out something that plays to the tune of the soul.
Jamil Scalese is just like you — an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.