Continuing our discussion of graphic novels that might appeal to readers who enjoy the combination of art and text, but who are uninterested in either superhero or alternative comics.
Historical fiction is the cheap and easy way to time travel, allowing readers to experience other times, places, and fascinating larger than life characters. Cinebook offers several historical series. Of the two we’ll look at here, one uses a classic adventure novel as a starting point and the other, the memoirs of a queen.
Long John Silver by Xavier Dorison and Mathieu Lauffray brings a large cast to vivid life. From young Jack, who idolizes Silver and is desperate to prove himself to the old rogue, to the conflicted Doctor Livsey who despises Silver, but despises his own failings more, to the ship’s officer Dantzig, who will cooperate with Silver to complete his mission of rescuing Lord Hastings, Dorison creates a company of fascinating, flawed human beings. His finest creations, however, might be Lady Vivian Hastings and Silver himself. At first glance Lady Vivian is no lady. She’s entertaining a lover
while her husband is off seeking a lost city and its treasure in the Amazon and has just discovered she’s pregnant. Her response is “What a bother! As if I needed that right now.” It’s she who hires Silver to kill her husband and steal the lost city’s treasure. But by the end of volume one, Lady Vivian Hastings (56p, 978-1-84918-062-7, $13.95), readers see she has a believable and even sympathetic motive for her behavior.
It’s Silver, though, who holds the reader’s attention – despicable, enigmatic, charismatic Silver, who inspires fear and loyalty and follows his own code. Doctor Livsey might believe he understands Silver and Lady Vivian might think she controls him, but Silver is always his own man. Dorison has taken Stevenson’s already fascinating creation and given him even more depth.
Silver is older here than in Stevenson’s novel. He’s ill and trying to retain control of men who see him as an obstacle to their own plans. He’s King of the Pirates in some ways, yet he’ll play the servant to achieve his goals.
He’s callous, letting Jack take a beating for a crime he didn’t commit, yet he’s also capable of some tenderness. There’s a silent five panel scene in volume three, The Emerald Maze (54p, 978-1-84918-105-1, $13.95),
where Silver is watching a sleeping Vivian. As he notices her thickening waistline, he pulls a blanket over her. Does he do this because he pities her? Or is there some other reason? His enigmatic expression leaves the reader wondering. As much as Long John Silver is an adventure story, it’s also a study of the human condition as this disparate group of people sail from England into unexplored areas of the Amazon seeking treasure, revenge, and redemption.
Lauffray’s art is incredible. Each volume of the series is like a collection of storyboards for a film. That’s no surprise really, given his background as a concept artist for Brotherhood of the Wolf and the video game Alone in the Dark 4. Lauffray knows how to pace a page for maximum dramatic effect, while keeping in mind that each illustration has to justify its inclusion by advancing the story. Every silent panel depicting waves crashing against impassible cliffs, the bulk of a deserted ship run aground at the foot of an immense, shadow-filled forest, or a ship caught in a maelstrom is there to establish setting and mood.
The books’ muted colors have a luminous quality to them, almost like the panels have been done in oils. Lauffray has a strong sense of light and dark and uses it effectively.
For those who prefer a more royal take on history, there’s Olivier Cadic, François Gheysens, Juliette Derenne, Sophie Barroux, and Camille Paganotto’s Queen Margot trilogy: The Age of Innocence(49p, 978-1-905460-10-6, $13.95), The Bloody Wedding (50p, 978-1-905460-19-9, $13.95), and Endangered Love (48p, 978-1-905460-41-0, $13.95). The three volumes follow Margot de Valois, who became the wife of King Henri IV of France, from the time she’s sixteen in 1569 through her twenty-first year.
Using Margot’s memoirs as their basis, Cadic and Gheysens tell the story of a young woman caught between duty to her family, country, and religion and love. Right from the beginning readers can sympathize with the princess. She is last in her mother’s affections and attention and desperately wants her approval. But Margot is no spineless miss. She’s capable of taking care of herself. The incident of the slimy Lord Du Guast proves that. When the nobleman offers to “perfect your (Margot’s) studies at the school of soft moans,” the insulted princess takes her revenge in a very public way. Unfortunately, while it’s a satisfying moment, it creates in Du Guast an enemy bent on ruining Margot.
Margot’s family is full of colorful characters. Her mother, Catherine de’Medici, is cunning and determined. Her elder brother Charles, more properly King Charles IX of France, is petty, reckless, and jealous of her other brother, the multi-talented Henri D’Anjou. All of these people use Margot and anyone else in their ken to further their own ambitions and consolidate their power. It’s only with the dashing and courageous Henri, Duke of Guise that she can feel loved for herself.
The authors do a fine job of giving readers the information they need to follow the politics of this turbulent time when Protestants and Catholics were at war and politics made strange bedfellows. Despite my knowing next to nothing about French history, with careful reading I was able to understand the larger background Margot moved against.
Derenne’s art has a classic fairy tale look to it.
The costumes and backgrounds are lush and ornate, creating a sense of time and place without detracting from each panel’s action.
Battle scenes have the look of medieval tapestries.
Fans of high quality historical fiction are urged to check
out Cinebooks’ selections. They won’t be disappointed.