Sunday, January 8, 2017

Best Comics of 2016, No. 12: The Children of Captain Grant

I used to love those live action Disney movies when I was a wee tad. Now they seem a bit of a cornball, but they still stand up well for the most part. Many of them, like The Incredible Journey, The Miracle of the White Stallions and The Three Lives of Thomasina are about survival and search against impossible odds.
And thanks to Dell/Gold Key, a lot of them got their own comics too! Many were illustrated by Dan Speigle. I didn't realize it at the time, but his art influenced me almost as much as that of Curt Swan.
This book is an adaptation of a film of a Jules Verne novel, one of a very LONG series of adventure books he wrote. Though Disney played fast and loose with the novel, the resulting film (and comic, and I think there was a paperback novelization as well) was very engaging and exciting.
I had forgotten all about it, until I was reading the recent reprint of the French adaptation of the original novel, The Children of Captain Grant. As I was reading it, I found the pacing a bit off-putting, as it has that Victorian air about it that can slow the telling of a story in its deliberation. But I found the story itself oddly familiar. It wasn't until I did some background research for this piece that I made the connection back to this earlier adaptation from my childhood- a "well, duh!" moment.
I may have been misled by the subgenre in which the graphic novel is recast.
The story is retold using the furry motif.
All the characters are humanized animals- or if you prefer, anthropomorphized  humans. There's no real reason given for this. It's just assumed that that's the world in which these characters endure. The same as ours, except that everyone has fur, or feathers, or scales, or fins or some such.
Longtime readers will know of my affinity for such stories, both in consuming and in creating. From my early exposure to Barks' Duck books to my apprenticeship on Reed Waller's Omaha the Cat Dancer (a short chapter in my life that I never tire of bringing up), funny animals have been an integral part of my worlds. And I've seen all stripe (so to speak) of art in these books, ranging from the crude to the energetic and elegant (Katherine Collins' Neil the Horse comes to mind). There are some funny animal stories (to use Reed's preferred term) that take the art more seriously than others- the mechanical precision of Martin Wagner's Hepcats comes to mind here.
But I don't think I've ever seen as lushly painted a furry book as this, with the possible exceptions of Blacksad and the Grandville stories.
Every page explodes with meticulously controlled color. Landscapes, ships, architecture, different cultures, all exquisitely rendered.
Once again, I'll rely on the publisher (in this case, Super Genius) to provide a plot overview: "In this adaptation of the classic novel, the entire cast of characters has been transformed into anthropomorphic animal! It begins with a message-actually three water-damaged messages-found in a bottle removed from the belly of a shark. Written in three different languages the messages reveal that the long-missing Captain Grant was shipwrecked and is being held hostage. The only clue from the messages that might be of any help, will lead Lord Glenarvan and Captain Grant’s children on an adventure literally around the world!"
The story has the requisite elements: quirky characters, burgeoning romance, yearning for a lost parent, and so much adventure and derring-do you could plotz.
Though published in the US in 2016, this book was originally published in three volumes in France between 2009 and 2013. Its creator, Alexis Nesme, is well established as a children's comic illustrator in France. Here's an interview with him (in French- I can make out about half of it, not enough to provide an accurate translation, so I'll leave you to your own devices).

This book was a bit of a slog at times. My tolerance for quaint period writing is not high, so it took me a while to get through it. But that's a failing in me, not in the work. It was worth the effort. This book is exciting, lush and ultimately very satisfying.
Next: Best Comics No. 11, behind the scenes...