This week I bring up a wonderful series by Christophe Blain called Isaac le Pirate. It tells the story of Isaac Sofer, who initially sees himself as a painter, but ends up joining a pirate crew, which then leads to odd and sometimes grim and sometimes humorous situations. The love of his life also sees her story told while he’s away – as he struggles to get back to her – and we get to meet some other interesting characters as well (like Jacques, Isaac’s partner-in-crime, who gets a book named after him). The series is made up of 5 books, and although it’s never been said that it’s over, all 5 were released between 2001 and 2005. It’s well worth reading for its mix of humor, drama, and high sea adventure. I’ll also recommend Blain’s Gus series, set in the wild west.
Les aventures de Spirou et Fantasio is one of those classic series that most kids who grew up reading BDs have read – I loved the series so much that I even named my first dog “Spirou.” I continue to read the main series through its creator changes – with my favourite runs being by Franquin (1-19, 24) and Tome & Janry (33-46) – but what I’ll highlight this week is a spinoff series that started a few years ago. Referred to as “Le Spirou de” (The Spirou of) it’s composed of one-shots done by different creators who are allowed a more personal take on the characters. There have been 13 releases so far, and highlights include Yann’s Le tombeau des Champignac, Emile Bravo’s Le journal d’un ingénu, and Lewis Trondheim’s Panique en Atlantique – but they’re all really fun reads, and I love reading these “alternate” takes on such classic characters.
Yesterday, in the weekly team newsletter I help produce, I started including a “bandes-dessinées” (Franco/Belgian comics) recommendation column, and figured why not share it here too. Here’s what I started with.
I love the sequential arts, and have found myself reading comics, manga, and bandes-dessinées (BD) my entire life. After half a life spent in Japan, I drifted away from the world of BD, but since moving to Montreal I’ve been diving back into that world, discovering interesting new series, while also re-reading some of the classics – and I get all of these from one of our nearby libraries, since we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the Mordecai-Richler and Marc-Favreau libraries. Each week I’ll highlight one of these series – and yes, they’re all in French, but even if you struggle with the language, comics are a great way to practise your reading skills (and some of these may have English editions as well).
For this first column, I’ll bring up Thorgal, a series I’ve been devouring in recent months. It’s a fantasy series – with a touch of sci-fi – that tells the story of man who is raised in Viking culture, but later discovers that his roots lie elsewhere. Written by Jean Van Hamme (XIII, Largo Winch, Wayne Shelton) with fantastic art by Gzegorz Rosinski, there are 35 books in the main series so far (Van Hamme handed over the reigns to Yves Sente from the 30th volume), and a few spinoff series as well. I never got into Thorgal when I was a kid – I think I found it too dark at the time – so this was my first time reading it, and I love it. I’m not the biggest fan of fantasy, but the stories here are epic, with ongoing storylines that keep you looking forward to the next book, and the sci-fi inclusions are fun too.
This book was such a joy to read through. Not only is the art throughout absolutely fantastic, but I found it to be an incredibly satisfying way to revisit the franchise, by way of these art pieces instead of what we tend to remember of the games (the actual graphics of the games). It’s also made me want to really get around to playing the Zelda games I’ve missed, which are basically all of the Gameboy ones (Link’s Awakening, Oracles, and The Minish Cap). It also includes an interview with some of the artists, that actually offers some insights in what the thinking was when they came up with the main aesthetic for each game.
This is a French graphic novel that came out a couple of years ago that I was noticing in lots of year-end “best of” lists, and kept wanting to read. I was lucky enough to get it as a present in a gift exchange we did at work, and really quite enjoyed it. Lovely art and a fun tale of a bunch of geezers who come together in an unexpected way. I see now that there are two other books out in the series, and I really want to read them as well.
Over the years I’ve enjoyed quite a few of the “Best American” short story anthologies – especially the Comics one and the Nonrequired Reading one – and so the other day I was quite happy to catch a one-day sale on Amazon, with each Kindle edition of the 2015 series available for $2. I bought all 9 (although I later learned that there’s another one, The Best American Infographics 2015, which wasn’t in the sale, but that I would also love to get). I’m pretty far in the Comics one, which is as solid as always, and I’ve started reading the Science Fiction & Fantasy one, which is the first edition in the “Best American” series, and curated by Joe Hill, whose Locke & Key series I quite enjoyed. This should keep me busy for a while.
I read a lot of comics – and I mean, A LOT – but one thing that I noticed in 2015 is that I gradually started losing interest in pretty much all of the super-hero series being put out by the Big 2 (DC and Marvel). One exception is a series that is only on its 3rd issue (out this week), The Vision. Yup, the Vision of Avengers fame, but this is not your typical super-hero tale. The setup is that the Vision creates himself a family (a wife and 2 kids) and tries to give himself a life in suburbia. Weirdness ensues. It’s written by Tom King, a person who is very much turning into my favorite writer in mainstream comics (I’m also currently reading his Sheriff of Babylon series), and that alone was a sign that this would be a book to check out. It’s by far my favorite super-hero I’m reading right now (despite that fact that I’m not reading a lot of them these days).
Following my enjoyment of the Undertaker series, I decided to try and find some more work from the creators of that book, and came across this 3-book series by the same artist, and written by Tome, whose work I’ve also enjoyed in the past (Spirou & Fantasio, Soda). Berceuse Assassine has a rather interesting concept, telling a noir story 3 times, with each book seeing it from the perspective of a different character. The kicker is that the character featured in the 3rd book did not appear to be important at first, but ends up being the lynchpin. It’s an older series – was published in the late 90s – and well worth a read.
As I mentioned in my favorite media of 2015 post, when it comes to graphic novels, I tend to play a lot of catch up at the end of the year, as the year-end lists start to come out. On the French side, a new Western series called Undertaker piqued my interest, and so I decided to give the first book a try (there are 2 out). I’m a big fan of the Western genre in general, no matter what the medium, and this is definitely one of the better entries, with a great story – and killer cliffhanger ending – and solid art. I immediately had to read the second book, which offered up a satisfying conclusion to the first story arc, and sets up things nicely for future books. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more.
As a kid, the Yoko Tsuno series of comics was one of my favorites – foreshadowing my future life in Japan perhaps – and I’ve continued to read them throughout my life. It’s been a few years since I’ve read one though, and over the weekend I read the latest book to come out, Le secret de Khâny (no. 27). It wasn’t a bad read, but I found myself feeling lost a bit trying to keep track of the larger cast of characters that have been introduced over the last few books. It also refers a lot to stuff that happened in the earlier books, which in a way is quite nice, but at the same time it made it hard to completely understand why stuff was happening. It was nice revisiting the series though, and I’m feeling the urge to read through more of the recent books.