Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #74: Isle of 100,000 Graves by Vehlman and Jason

A few days ago, I wrote here that Paul Pope was the creator most difficult to search for in online databases. It is true that Pope is difficult to search for, but I'd forgotten the eternal champion of unfindability: the Norwegian cartoonist who goes by the name Jason. It's a testament to the power of his work that he hasn't sunk utterly without trace due to the genericism of his name.

Isle of 100,000 Graves is not a pure Jason book, and so it will be easier to find in those databases: it was written by Fabien Vehlmann, current writer of the long-running Spirou series and writer of many other comics projects (including the recent Day 47, Beautiful Darkness, with the husband-and-wife team Kerascoet and the even more recent Day 66, Last Days of an Immortal, with Gwen De Bonneval). And "Fabien Vehlmann" is a name designed for search, one a SEO would cackle in delight when it turned up on his dashboard.

None of that has anything to do with the story, of course.

Isle is only slightly out of Jason's usual wheelhouse: it's a historical pirate story rather than a modern genre tale (of detectives or zombies or time-travel or whatever), but it's still set among a very Jason-esque cast of self-doubting stone-faced humanoids with bare animal feet and vaguely animal-looking faces. But, unlike the usual for Jason, our main character is a young girl, Gwenny, and she's much more self-directed, sneaky, and resourceful than the protagonists of the stories Jason writes for himself.

Gwenny's father found a map to a treasure buried on the fabled Isle of 100,000 Graves, and disappeared in search of it five years ago. Gwenny finds a map herself, and decides to follow her father. That's the story as we're supposed to believe it at the beginning, though it's nowhere near the whole truth.

But Gwenny does find a ship willing to take her, and a big one-eyed pirate she manipulates into getting her off the ship to the island. But it's not called the Isle of 100,000 Graves for nothing. It's the home of the Hangman's Academy, which trains a horde of hooded killers and torturers -- for what purpose, it's not clear. But among those apprentice headsmen is Tobias, who may have the soul of a poet, and who is quite good at interrogations, but who completely fails to get the knack of killing.

This is enough of a Jason book that everything goes wrong from there, and that there isn't a clearly happy ending. But it's less bleak than many of his solo works, either because or in spite of Vehlmann's contribution. Jason's characters are as blank-faced as ever: the reader has to imagine most of their interior lives, because Jason will depict only a few moments of supposed high emotion with a tear or an angry word. It's not one of Jason's very best works -- and not quite as strong as the other two books of Vehlmann's I've read recently -- but it's a wonderfully dark and deadpan tales of pirates and torturers, better than most of what you'd find in a comics shop on any random day.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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