By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
April 5, 2011 -- NBM ComicsLit’s partnership with The Louvre museum has produced another outstanding graphic novel.
The Sky Over The Louvre ($19.99) almost couldn’t miss. It’s written by celebrated screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière (The Tin Drum, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie), and drawn by leading French artist Bernar Yslaire (Sambre), and both demonstrate the surefootedness of their experience in both quality and content. It says a lot that NBM was willing to go with an odd size (10½ by 11¼”), which is often the kiss of death in the marketplace.
That extra width gives room to appreciate Yslaire’s delicate pencils and elaborate ink rendering. It also allows for the unobtrusive appearance of 38 of The Louvre’s greatest pieces, from Jacques-Louis David’s “Marat Assassinated” to Michelangelo’s “Captive (‘The Dying Slave’).”
The extra size also yields more room for story than you’d expect in a 72-page graphic novel – and what a story it is! Carrière puts his stamp on the story of Robespierre and M. David during the French Revolution, during which the former wanted to replace religion with a secular Supreme Being, and demanded that the latter paint it. David, meanwhile, had an obsession of his own with a delicate young soldier he thought represented the purity and nobility of France (which resulted in the famous painting “Death of Joseph Bara”).
All of this takes place with The Terror as its backdrop. As politician and artist bicker about the Supreme Being, thousands are marched to the guillotine (“The Widow”) while Robespierre attempts to recreate society from scratch, up to and including a new calendar. It’s a horrific, violent turning point in Western civilization, and neither artist nor writer attempt to soften its brutality or surreal “logic.”
* Cartoon Network has not renewed Batman: The Brave and the Bold for a third season, an odd but clever Bat-cartoon in which the Dark Knight teams up with different DC characters (which was the format of the Brave and Bold comic book from 1966 to 1983). Nevertheless, Warner Home Video continues to collect the episodes on DVD. Season 1, Part 2 debuted March 15 with 13 episodes, with co-stars ranging from the obscure (Bat-Mite) to the famous (Aquaman). It’s worth it for the odd take on these characters. Green Arrow looks as he did before his 1969 revamp, for example, and the really entertaining Aquaman is like no other version ever seen (with a bombastic, self-congratulatory personality). Batman himself appears to have come straight out of the 1960s (with more than a nod to the Adam West TV version). Recommended.
* Gold Key published Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery for 27 years (1963-80) and 97 issues, so when Dark Horse began reprinting the series in hardback, I was surprised to discover that all of these stories were new to me. Why didn’t I buy any issues of Boris Karloff in those years? The first four volumes gave no clue, as they were solid if unspectacular examples of the post-Comics Code “suspense” book – workmanlike stories that were deliberately not too scary or gory, but with bad guys generally getting some sort of satisfying, usually supernatural, comeuppance at the end. But in the recent Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery Volume Five ($49.99), the stories aren’t solid, they’re simply silly – which jogged my memory. The books reprinted here (Karloff #17-24) arrived when I first sampled it (1967-68), and now I remember why I didn’t buy Karloff: I found it insulting to my intelligence. Since the Li’l Capn would have been about 10 when he came to that conclusion, you can judge for yourself if you want to indulge in them.
* Few Americans know the backstory to “Blondie,” a comic strip which started in 1930 with filthy rich Dagwood Bumstead and airhead flapper Blondie Boopadoop (yes, that’s her real maiden name). But when Dagwood married Blondie in 1933, his parents cut him off without a cent, and the former silver-spoon slacker had to learn how to hold a job – thus creating the modern domestic comic strip. IDW has done history a favor by reprinting the pre-marriage strips chronologically (Blondie: The Courtship and Wedding: The Complete Daily Comics Strips from 1930-1933, $49.99). The strips focus on the Bumstead family (whose patriarch resembles later Dagwood boss J.C. Dithers), are a little repetitive (and a little boring), but pure gold from the standpoint of historians and comic-strip aficionados.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at firstname.lastname@example.org.