JUST THE GOOD STUFF: EUROPEAN MASTERPIECES EDITION
Welcome to JUST THE GOOD STUFF. This time around, I want to tell you about some books with art so good that you absolutely, positively have to read them – and you have to read them in their print editions, so that you can fully appreciate the artwork.
The books have other things in common. Each one is illustrated using a variety of media, the most noteworthy being the use of paints in conjunction with pencils and inks. Moreover, all of these titles are English translations of titles that originally appeared in French. In fact, all of the titles’ creators are Frenchmen, but for Fabrizio Dori, the Italian author and illustrator of our first work under consideration :
GAUGUIN : THE OTHER WORLD, first published by Sarbacane Paris 2016 ; published in English by SelfMadeHero London 2016 (the U.S. release was February 15th of this year); translated from the French by Edward Gauvin.
This is a biographical novel about the great painter’s time in Tahiti. In the novel, Gauguin undertakes a kind of spiritual journey that begins at the moment of his death, when he is guided by a Polynesian deity through a recounting of his life. However, this story is no sugar-coated hagiography ; Gauguin’s many failings are shown unflinchingly, most notably his abandonment of his wife and children.
Gauguin struggled his entire life for acceptance by the art world, but he’s held in reverence today, while his fashionable colleagues have mostly been forgotten – I think that the great man would feel particularly vindicated by the sheer number of times his paintings have been reproduced in posters and screen savers. Essentially, Gauguin’s story demonstrates both the power of dreams and the cost of dreaming them. Dori has simply added fantastical Polynesian elements to the mix, with pleasing results.
Even more pleasing is the art, an homage to Gauguin that in many places reproduces Gauguin’s original works. Otherwise, the art in this book is a testament to Dori’s own powers of imagination, particularly in the development of distinctive stylistic elements, like the Polynesian-inspired imagery.
This is a book filled with beauty – beautiful images and beautiful ideas – and I can’t give a higher recommendation than that. Then, too, the book has a lot of supplementary essays in the back, so I would especially recommend this title to students and art lovers everywhere.
Final note : This book is an entry in SelfMadeHero’s ART MASTERS series. I recently read another entry in the series, the Van Gogh biography VINCENT by Barbara Stok, and I would recommend that title, as well.
Next, we have FLIGHT OF THE RAVEN, written and illustrated by Jean-Pierre Gibrat (EuroComics/IDW 2017), translated from the original French title LE VOL DU CORBEAU (DUPUIS 2010).
FLIGHT OF THE RAVEN is the atmospheric, noir-ish story of beautiful French Resistance operative Jeanne, on the run and forced to accept help from the handsome, charismatic cat-burglar Francois. Formulaic? Who cares? The story grabs you and just won’t let go. Also, I really fell in love with Jeanne from the very first pages ; in fact, one of the best features of this title is the collection of full-page portraits of Jeanne in the supplementary material at the back – sometimes, it was like my eyes couldn’t pull away from her, she’s just that beautiful.
But there’s much more to the art than portraiture, no matter how entrancing. The whole thing has a quasi-Impressionist look at times, but without sacrificing detail as true Impressionist work would. On the contrary, there is some amazing draftsmanship here, particularly in the crowded city-scapes and the intricate depiction of architecture, as in the eye-popping rooftop scenes ; all of this is counter-poised against the more organic treatment of the canal scenes and the intimate portrayals of Rene, Huguette, and their son Nicolas.
It’s not surprising that the original French title, LE VOL DU CORBEAU, garnered Jean-Pierre Gibrat a Best Artist Award at the Angouleme Festival. This English translation is a very attractive over-sized (8.5 x 11 in.) trade paperback which includes a nice slipcover.
Our final title for consideration is the tetralogy LONG JOHN SILVER, written by Xavier Dorison and illustrated by Mathieu Lauffray ; the English translation was published by Cinebook, from the original French-language series volumes published 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013 by Dargaud Paris. The four volumes are :
LONG JOHN SILVER I : LADY VIVIAN HASTINGS (2010);
LONG JOHN SILVER II : NEPTUNE (2011);
LONG JOHN SILVER III : THE EMERALD MAZE (2011), originally titled LE LABYRINTHE d’EMERAUDE ; and,
LONG JOHN SILVER IV : GUIANA-CAPAC (2013), originally GUYANACAPAC.
All three of the titles discussed in this edition of JUST THE GOOD STUFF are great reads as well as great art, but the story in LONG JOHN SILVER is in a class by itself. The series skillfully depicts both the best and worst that humanity has to offer, with dialogue and characterization that always ring true and a plot that’s complex as well as compelling. However, for all its depth and sophistication, this story is still broadly appealing : it’s a pirate tale, after all, with Silver and Company seeking the fabled wealth of a lost city.
The art here is noteworthy for many reasons. Characterization through portraiture is one strong point for the series ; another is the artwork’s distinctly cinematic feel, accomplished through the use of cinematic devices like sophisticated character blocking. This, in turn, is only one of the techniques used by Lauffray to effect some truly remarkable frame composition. Likewise, the layout is worth a mention, because it’s always pleasing to the eye and it gives the story a natural flow. As with FLIGHT OF THE RAVEN, the phenomenal art here is shown to best advantage in an oversized (8.5 x 11.5″) format.
Well, that’s all for now. Catch me here at Outright Geekery next week for another installment of JUST THE GOOD STUFF.
In the meantime, please check out my other reviews for Outright Geekery, where I have lots of great books to tell you about.