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Review time! with Afrika

Oh, those wacky Belgian comic book creators! Can’t they just write in English like the rest of the civilized world?

Afrika is the creation of Hermann, one of those European comics creators who refuses to use a surname (it’s Huppen, by the way). He’s been around for quite a while (he was born in 1938), but this is the first comic I’ve read by him, mainly because I’m a troglodytic Yankee who can’t read other languages. This book was published by SAF in 2007, but Dark Horse was nice enough to translate it and publish it here. That was mighty swell of them! It’s only 54 pages long and costs $15.99, which might factor into whether you’re going to buy it, but it is hardcover, larger than your usual comic, and it’s pretty gorgeous. Pros and cons, people, that’s what we’re all about here at the blog!

I’m torn about Afrika, because I like it but I can’t really recommend it unequivocally, and I’m not sure what the problem is. Hermann’s art isn’t a problem – it’s absolutely beautiful. His eye for detail as his characters travel across the savanna is wonderful, as we get stunning painted work of animals hunting each other or just standing in herds, and Hermann shows them from several different viewpoints, including overhead. When the two main characters head into the jungle, it’s still gorgeous but much more oppressive, as the greenery and rainfall threatens to overwhelm them. Like most European artists, Hermann doesn’t shy away from nudity, and he doesn’t idealize the human form – the characters look beaten up by life, and while the women are more attractive than the men, their bodies are designed realistically. Hermann paints the entire book, so that the delicacy of the colors struggles against the brutality that is often portrayed, and it lends some tension to the entire comic, as it helps underline the main character’s (and perhaps the author’s?) contention that men ruin everything. The natural beauty of Africa is contrasted nicely with the ugliness of what men can do. It’s far more subtle in the art than in the writing. Hermann doesn’t do too much with page layouts, but he is able to fit a lot of panels onto each page – European artists, Pedro Bouça tells me, tend to eschew splashes as wasteful, and from what I’ve seen of European comics, he’s not wrong – so the book feels a bit more packed than its page count would indicate. It does make the very few times he expands the panels (not into full-page splashes, but ones that fill more than half the page) more dramatic, which is probably the entire point.

The story is fine, but stumbles a bit, and I’m not sure if it’s the translation or not. The book doesn’t list a translator (there’s an editor for the English language version, but not a translator), so perhaps Hermann did it himself. The dialogue is often awkward, too stilted and formal, and for someone like Dario Ferrer, the main character, it doesn’t feel right. At the beginning of the book, Dario meets Charlotte, a journalist writing a story on poachers, and he takes an instant dislike to her. Their early conversations feel off, because Dario seems too angry with her and Charlotte seems too familiar with him, and the dialogue is not very good. As the book moves on, it becomes better, which makes me wonder if it’s not the translation but Hermann trying to get too much in early on before concentrating on the bigger plot. They do end up having an interesting relationship – they do not, as Dario’s lover believes, have sex (thankfully), and in fact they don’t ever really like each other, but they do gain respect for each other. It’s as if Hermann wants to make sure Dario spouts his beliefs about preserving Africa’s pristine environment and the evil of men coming to the continent and killing everything before he can begin the actual story. It feels artificial, because it’s mainly Dario telling us stuff, and the actual plot of the book isn’t really about poaching anyway. That brings me to the other problem with the book: the actual plot.

About halfway through the book, the real plot kicks into gear, as the government of this unnamed African country does something that Dario and Charlotte witness, and they both realize they need to flee the country. Hermann’s reluctance to provide specifics (whether that was mandated by the PTB at the publishing company or not) means that the political machinations of the book remain vague – we can certainly guess what’s going on, but it still remains a bit obscure. Therefore, the human cost of the government’s actions have less impact, and certainly Dario makes the decision to flee rather quickly, which calls into question his entire commitment to “his” animals. I understand that this is not a book with introspective characters (Hermann nicely never specifically tells us what really haunts Dario), but it’s strange that Dario seems to shift his priorities so rapidly. Again, I get back to the translation – is some nuance lost going from French to English? I assume so, but one would think French-to-English is “easy” enough (neither is a terribly obscure language, in other words) that the translator could at least attempt to carry over idioms or nuances. If the translation is fine, it gets back to Hermann’s writing being not as good as his art. I just don’t know. There’s also the question of what happens with Iseko, Dario’s lover. She doesn’t get refrigerated, in case you’re wondering, but she also seems to shift her perceptions quite easily. Reading a bit about Hermann, he seems to enjoy writing somewhat bleak comics, and while Afrika isn’t that bleak, the story is a bit cynical about human nature. I don’t really have a problem with that, except for the fact that the characters in Afrika fall into cynicism so easily.

It’s frustrating reading Afrika, because it’s so beautiful and it feels like Hermann has a lot on his mind about the situation in Africa with regard to poaching, encroaching humanity, and corrupt governments. He skims the surface of these serious topics but never delves too far into them, and I’m not sure if he didn’t have the page count to do it or if he just wasn’t interested. The book feels oddly incomplete, even though Hermann wraps it up with a dramatic gesture that leaves no room for misinterpretation. It’s not a bad comic, but I can only Mildly Recommend it because it just feels like it could have been a lot more interesting, but it’s not. It feels like ten or fifteen pages are missing, and that’s too bad. The art is very nice, though!

12 Comments

The Belgian comic authors could probably write in english… If they wanted to sell LESS, of course.

Anyway, Hermann is a bit of a misanthropist himself, so you should read the story with that in mind. Maybe it makes more sense that way? I’m not sure, I haven’t read it myself…

And I’m ALWAYS right, dammit!

By the way, Greg, you seem to have missed that from Previews:
http://www.amazon.com/The-Grand-Duke-Yann/dp/1936393476/

And this one, since we are at that:
http://www.amazon.com/Sharaz-Arabian-Nights-Sergio-Toppi/dp/1936393484/

(You always ask me about those Archaia comics I haven’t read and now miss the ones I actually read?)

The first one is drawn by Romain Hugault, the very best aviation comics artist in the world by a wide margin. And yes, I can back that claim, take a look at this preview for one of his earlier works:
http://www.bdgest.com/preview-320-BD-au-dela-des-nuages-combats.html

The Archaia-published series is also a treat for WWII aviation nuts like me, with planes rarely seen in comics like the He-219 Uhu, the Ju-188 and even the Mistel composite plane! You see Spitfires and Mustangs all the time, but not those.

Sharaz-De is a beast of different color, an 1001 Nights-inspired comic by one of the greatest comic artist in existence, Sergio Toppi!

(You don’t know him, but guys like Walt Simonson swear by him.)

He is a veteran master who, as far as I can tell, has never been published in english before. You have to get that comic! Even if you don’t like it, you need to read Toppi’s work at least once, to see what the fuss is all about.

And try and get some Cinebook comics now and then. Diamond may ignore them, but they are ALL available at Amazon. Those are the actual mainstream European comics that sell in the millions this side of the pond…

Pedro: I may not have mentioned the Toppi book in my Previews post, but I did pre-order it, because it sounded very cool. I’ll get around to it when it actually ships! As for the first one, that does look cool. I’ll have to pick that sucker up!

Hermann is one of THE european artists. He did a lot of series (Like Comanche, Bernard Prince, Jeremiah etc) and a lot of one-shots (Solo albums). Barring that, I’ve never really cared for him. His stories are often boring for me. He’s a great artist but I hate his algae like hair he draws for human characters. But that’s just me. :)

Greg, here is a preview of that particular comic, I hadn’t posted it before because it has no Cool Plane Scenes:
http://www.bdgest.com/preview-435-BD-le-grand-duc-les-sorcieres-de-la-nuit.html

Zdenko, Hermann IS an acquired taste. I do enjoy his stories, however. And Comanche is one of the all-time greatest European western comics!

Hermann is as Zdenko said above ‘One Of THE euro-artists’ (even if i dont really care for his work after comanche and jeremiah)

jeremiah was made into a tv series by JM Strazinski , with luke perry in the lead (it lasted 2 seasons in 2002 – 2003 )

Greg , If you’re interested in euro-artists, try some Comès , Cosey (Never was a big fan of his Johnatan series, but all his albums set in the US of A, with veterans, lost love and such are really great ) , Andreas or Franquin

Yeah, I know, he is an acquired taste. Never much cared for his work, but I do respect his work.

Ollieno, I don’t think any of them is currently available in english (Greg is american, so he ONLY knows english, those americans sure are weird…), most probably have never been.

Pedro: THAT’S BECAUSE ENGLISH RULEZZZZZZZ!!!!!!! I could probably read a comic in Latin, very haltingly. Stupid dead languages!

Would you like me send you some Cinebook titles to review?

Aldous: I couldn’t ask you to do that! I’ll just order them from the site like anyone else. I have read a few – I got the first Lady S. book a few years ago and enjoyed it a lot, and some of the other titles look pretty keen. Usually I rely on Diamond/Previews, but I’ll definitely go through your site and check out some of the titles. Crusade and Queen Margot look very cool!

I sent you an email!

Cheers, I sent it again.

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