01/06/2007. Contributed by Neale Monks
pub: NBM/Nantier Beall Minoustchine. 80 page graphic novel. Price: $14.95 (US). ISBN: 1-56163-483-2.
check out website: www.nbmpublishing.com
'Glacial Period' one of a series of four graphic novels where the authors have been engaged by the Louvre to interpret the collections in their own way. As a result, the book is as much a guide to the treasures of the Louvre as anything else and 'Glacial Period' must surely be unique among graphic novels in having an appendix listing the featured artworks along with their provenance and location in the museum.
But 'Glacial Period' also works well as a straightforward Science Fiction tale (at least to begin with) and at another level as a simple comedy, contrasting what the characters think they know with what we as readers actually know.
Set in the distant future, 'Glacial Period' takes place at a time when Europe as been covered with snow and ice and her cultures long since forgotten. Journeying northwards are a group of human and canine explorers. The humans appear to be archaeologists though their motives and backgrounds are never really made clear.
Alongside the humans are the dogs, though in this case genetically-modified dogs capable of talking and using their super-sensitive noses to perform all kinds of useful chemical tests. The relationships between these characters are not fully fleshed out. There seems to be some rivalry between some of them and some sexual tension between others (including, apparently, one of the dogs). But Crécy doesn't really seem that interested in the humans, at least except as a tool for getting the reader to look at the Louvre collection through their eyes.
Things pick up when one of the dogs gets separated from the explorers and from then on there are really two stories being told. One is primarily a comedic tale, with the explorers making increasingly ridiculous assumptions about human life prior to the glacial period based on what they see in the paintings. Things we know to be allegorical or fantastical are taken by them literally, so angels and satyrs are assumed to be real animal/human hybrids and scenes of the Biblical Flood and Hell interpreted as depictions of actual disasters.
As someone who has spent much of his life in a museum doing precisely this sort of assumption-based research on historical artefacts, I particularly enjoyed the delicious irony of this aspect of the story. So much of what goes on in museums and galleries is quite probably just as farcical as anything portrayed in 'Glacial Period' but without having the 20/20 vision of the reader, we're just as ignorant of our mistakes as the hapless heroes of this tale. That the Louvre should commission a book that exposes the dangers of hypothesis as blatantly as this is perhaps surprising, but definitely something to be approved of in this age of technological self- confidence and scientifically-based certainties.
The other tale, centred around the stray dog, is stranger and more dream-like, but in some ways ends up being much more accurate, with the objects and artworks themselves explaining the history of the collections from their perspective. Here again, there's both a sense of the absurd as well as depth. The Mona Lisa is all but forgotten, her name unused and her image faded away to nothing thanks to air pollution and overexposure.
But the other artworks recall the time when thousands would stream through the galleries to see her while passing them by and here again there's a nice sense of irony in the way that the ephemeral nature of celebrity is portrayed. There's also a nice contrast between the 'inspired, skinny' visitors to the Louvre of one age with the 'fat, jolly' ones of the next, with the former engaging with the art and the latter only interested in looking at it.
The two strands of the story eventually come together in a surprising and, it has to be said, inexplicable ending that completely leaves the realm of Science Fiction for one of fantasy. There's a rather pointed separation between the sacred and profane strands of art and finally a dramatic escape from the vaults of the museum to the freedom of the open air as the heroes, dogs, and gallery collections ride off into the snowscape.
The quality of the artwork is consistently excellent. Crécy seems equally good at evoking dreamy vistas of snow and ice as he is at reproducing with almost uncanny precision the paintings of the Old Masters. Flipping between the panels and the appendix adds an extra depth to the book, particularly on subsequent readings, and readers with even a smattering of art history knowledge will revel in the scope and variety of artwork featured. On the other hand, the back cover blurb describes Crecy as 'a mad genius', a rather loaded phrase that's difficult to justify on the basis of this book alone.
But it is an engaging book and one that forces the reader to look at art from multiple viewpoints simultaneously. The humans and dogs in the book see the art in one way, we see it in another and the works themselves in yet another. All in all, 'Glacial Period' is an entertaining and intelligent spin on the post-Apocalyptic theme so often popular with writers of graphic novels, and one that should be accessible and rewarding even to those who don't normally read 'comic books'. Recommended.
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