And in this week's edition of "WTF Theatre", we get this oddball exploration of the dark power of Art.
A young mangaka (aspiring manga creator) named Rohan Kishibe has a fleeting encounter with a strange woman while both are staying at an Inn owned by his grandmother. Their talks are wide-ranging and interesting, and the mysterious woman tells Rohan about a mysterious painting held at the Louvre, a painting of such deep and profound blackness that it creates terror in all those who see it.
The woman disappears and the mystery is forgotten for some time, but the memory never quite leaves Rohan. The young artist becomes obsessed with the mystery of the painting that the woman described. That mystery leads Rohan to a long-abandoned sub-basement of the Louvre, where the painting is stored. The horrors that emerge from the painting are disturbing and frightening and wreak havoc.
Yeah, it's the old "mysterious painting" story, brought to you as a co-production from the actual Louvre Museum — you know, the famous one, in Paris? Who'd have ever thought that the Louvre was sponsoring graphic novels? Surprisingly, this is apparently the fourth in a series of books sponsored by the Louvre and published by NBM. I wonder if the other three books are as oddball as this one.
Because this book doesn't provide a look at the Louvre's transcendent art collection, we only get a small glimpse at the work of the Great Masters and only a short trip down the great hallways that contain the greatest art in the world. Instead we spend a lot of time in administrative offices and dark, dank hallways. At least half the book is spent wandering those dark areas of the great museum, and I really felt it wasn't all that interesting to see some of the machinery that keeps the Louvre running. In some ways that's the least interesting aspects of the museum, but it spends an inordinate amount of time exploring those corridors.
Of course, that is necessary because the book leads up to a pretty dark discovery in a dark corridor. Once people are exposed to the piece of art, all kinds of horrific events start to happen to them. Past horrors come back to haunt them, and supernatural vengeance is wreaked upon everyone but Rohan.
I was intrigued by some of the themes in this book, most notably the idea that art has the power to destroy men's souls. A bit like Clay in Daniel Clowes's Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, Rohan and the men around him are affected deeply by the dark and seductive power of art. They are consumed by the evil of the work they encounter and it destroys them. It's a profound exploration of the power of art, in a way a very optimistic view of the way that art can truly change a person's life. On the other hand, the folkloric nature of this story feels jarring next to the Louvre's involvement with the work.
Araki's style is flamboyant and flashy, an interesting merger between traditional Japanese linework and American slickness. I use the term American specifically because this book does use some traditional American techniques, especially the effective use of diagonals in panel arrangements to emphasize the energy of a scene. There are some really effectively depicted scenes of horror and some wonderful use of color to emphasize many scenes. For a manga cartoonist, Araki has a pretty decent feel for color and Western flash.
I kept finding myself wanting something a little more profound from this book, considering the involvement of the greatest museum in the world. I understand that there's more to the works of Hirohiko Araki than is immediately obvious from this book, and that Rohan is a recurring character who Araki has explored in other graphic novels. The fact that the Louvre is placing its name and reputation behind this book implies that they feel that there is real artistic value in the work. But Rohan at the Louvre just didn't feel as deep or as interesting as its pedigree implies it should be.