This is the best graphic novel of 2008.
Eddie Campbell and Dan Best’s The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard is a spectacular achievement in comic art. Campbell and Best deliver a story that is dizzying in its range of presentation, innovative in its page layouts, and moving in its portrayal of characters. It’s alternatively playful and thoughtful, intelligent and very silly, moving and light.
Eddie Campbell has always been an innovative and interesting comics creator. He’s presented some of the finest graphic novels in the short and remarkable history of this artform. He produced haunting artwork in his collaboration with Alan Moore, From Hell, and great satire in his own Bacchus stories.
My favorite works by Campbell, though, are his autobiographical stories, which show his playful side. The autobio stories are utterly charming and quite astonishing in their use of innovative and thoughtful page layouts.
In The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard, readers find Campbell employing his playful style to a fictional tale–producing a graphic novel that is stirring in its use of clever page layouts, surprising plot twists, and a completely unselfconscious sense of total whimsy.
This book has a most remarkable sense of inner life to it. The ramshackle narrative ambles forward with its own unique inner momentum, pausing periodically to pursue intriguing graphical or plot-based tangents. We get pages that illustrate Wild West shows, some that look as if drawn by a child, and others that seem to consist of newspaper front pages. Each one adds more life to the story, showing the tale through the light of a different prism.
Added to all that is how the standard page grid is not sufficient to constrain the narrative thrust of the story. Campbell repeatedly steps up a standard four-panel grid, only to undercut the stability of the grid by having major actions occur outside the borders. During a remarkable sequence that shows a famous sinking ship, for instance, Campbell portrays the ship’s progress in a succession of images placed atop each page. The effect is exhilarating.
I often felt like the story is joking with itself as it progresses–as if Campbell and Best can’t stop themselves from playing with the narrative because they’re just having too much fun presenting it. The comic feels alive. It’s a celebration not only of the greatness of comics and the breathtaking achievements that a master artist can create, but also a book that seems to live and think and breathe as its own entity–separate from the story it presents.
You might note that I’ve gone this far without describing any events that happen in this book. I hope that’s not a cheat, but that’s entirely on purpose. I do so for two reasons. One is that (in a way) the plot doesn’t matter in this book; what really matters is the way that the story is presented.
The other, paradoxically, is that the plot does matter. It matters in this book in surprising and fascinating ways.
There is, for instance, a brilliant climax to “The Episode of Sleeping” that literally took my breath away in its brilliant use of time in comics. Additionally, the tale of the fighting dwarves is moving and rather spooky. Readers get caught up in these characters because the narrative seems to show their inner lives. These are not characters who can be constrained in traditional panels. They’re larger-than-life outsiders who seem to live on every page.
Even giving away small elements of this book’s plot will take away from its overall effect.
Campbell and Best have produced a brilliant graphic novel that will also be the most exhilarating and fun work you’ve read in a while. In a career studded with brilliant works, the great Eddie Campell has outdone himself with The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard.