Charlotte Corday and Dan Dare artist Keith Page picks out some of his favourite bandes dessinées…
Anyone who has visited a French comics shop will be aware of the vast and bewildering varieties of books displayed. Here are a few I found interesting that are well worth reading – or simply viewing, if you’re bereft of French…
by Jean Pierre Gibrat
Four volumes, Editions Futuropolis
• Mattéo, Book One: 1914-1915 is also available in English, published by IDW (incorrectly listed as Volume Two on Amazon)
Gibrat is an artist/writer who largely specialises in the period 1914 – 1944. His earlier stories, Le Sursis and Le Vol de Corbeau (two volumes each, Editions Dupuis) feature the adventures of young Resistance workers on the run from the Gestapo. Gibrat’s masterpiece, however, is the four-volume series Matteo, about a Spaniard who becomes involved in World War One, the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Civil War with his exploits coming to an as yet-unspecified end during World War Two.
Gibrat’s work is meticulously researched, every frame being full of detail. Characterisation is lively and expressive, with no two faces being the same (he doesn’t realty have a ‘standard face’, unlike many artists). Also, the characters age naturally over the years.
Starting with detailed pencils, Gibrat works lightly and selectively with a pen and then paints the whole thing with watercolours/gouache.After this, he scans the artwork into a computer and then adjusts the colour balance and line weight again by hand.
This is, of course, very time consuming and progress is slow by comics standards – but the end result is stunning.
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Hauteville House (13 volumes) by Duval/Goioux/Quet/Sayage
Extreme Steampunk set in a world gone mad in the mid-1800’s. Steampower has advanced way beyond that of real history.
The title comes from the writer-in-exile Victor Hugo’s home on Guernsey. This is a real house but in these stories, there is a secret underground base housing renegades fighting Emperor Napoleon the Third.
The drawing style is almost cartoonish but there is great attention to detail in the various inventions. For example, a “computer search” involves a vast underground multi-storey
library teeming with operatives who swing up and down in hoists, searching filing cabinets and communicating with each other via megaphones.
Inevitably, there is a touch of “pumped up Jules Verne” to this series, but an additional twist is the inclusion of other-dimensional beings and unsuspected undersea technical civilisations. There is also a wildly different version of the US Civil War going on. Great fun!
Il Etait une Fois en France (literally, “Once upon a Time in France”)
Fabien Nury / Sylvain Vallee
Six volumes Edition Glenat
The story summed up: a factory-owning Jewish gangster is working for the SS… or is he? Based loosely on a real person, this is a brutally realistic portrayal of life in France during World War Two that won numerous Prix Saint-Michel, comic awards presented by the city of Brussels. It would make a great TV series.
And, finally, something rather different…
Le Cabaret des Muses
by Gradimir Smudja
Three volumes, Editions Delcourt
A humorous look at Toulose-Lautrec and the Parisian art scene of the 1890’s. Every frame is a minutely-detailed painting with not a computer in sight.
I particularly like the cover of the first volume, Au Moulin Rouge.
About Keith Page
Inspired by the great British comics artists of the past such as Frank Hampson, Don Lawrence and Joe Colquhoun, Keith Page has worked full-time in comics and illustration for some 17 years. Subjects have ranged from television-related material such as Thunderbirds, science fiction, and his current war stories of all periods for Commando.
Along with many Charlotte Corday-related projects, recent works include The Casebook of Bryant May: The Soho Devil written by Christopher Fowler.
Other articles on downthetubes by Keith Page