Brusel

Brusel

      Magnificent: an adjective seldom used in this review column and dreamily appropriate for a new graphic novel from Europe, Brusel.

      Dreamily?

      Its plot is magnificently intriguing. Goaded by a visionary scientist, the government of Brusel redesigns its twisting, nightmarish streets and antiquated buildings into a completely functional, modern city. During the 19th century setting of Brusel, modern means 'an homage to cityscapes from the covers of 1930s science-fiction magazines'.

      Huh?  1930s?  19th century?

      A 'modern' florist selling a new product that never fades--plastic flowers--is enmeshed with these bureaucrats who attempt to scientific-ally control life, and with a beautiful woman who entangles him in her skirts and an underground movement that wants to destroy the reconstruction.

      Its art is a magnificent reverie. The cityscapes of artist Francois Schuiten are heavily influenced by the Winsor McCay comic strip masterpiece, Little Nemo in Slumberland, and SF magazine covers now seven decades re-moved. Like McCay, Schuiten is a trained architect. Like those old SF covers, Schuiten's cities capture a sense of grandeur, awe, and wonder.

      Every other aspect of Schuiten's visual storytelling is equality as entertaining and technically superb. This is a rare artistic jewel in which many panels deserve long and delightful study as Brusel is read over and over again.

      This charming muddle of different eras, dream, and reality is a satire that ridicules bloated bureaucracy, over-blown urbanization, pseudo-science, and Kafkaesque disenfranchisement from society. More importantly, it is proof that there are comic books that adults will not only enjoy, but also genuinely treasure.

      So, if you love it so much, Mr. Fancy-Pants reviewer, why don't you marry it?

      Oh, if only.  But this graphic novel is out of my league.

      Two restrained sexual situations will off-put some readers, but Brusel is one of the best graphic novels of 2001, and remains very highly recommended for adults.

      Review by Michael Vance

      Brusel/120 pgs., $19.95/story by Benoit Peeters/sold in book and comics shops, or at www.nbmpublishing.com.

 
Usagi Yojimbo

Usagi Yojimbo

      Meet Miyamoto Usagi.  Usagi is a ronin, or "masterless samurai," who lives in turn of the 17th century Japan. On the tail of civil war, the samurai has become the ruling class throughout the land, living by the honor-code known as "bushido."  Oh, did I also mention that Usagi is a..., well, a rabbit..?  Yes, a rabbit.

      Now, before you totally disengage, let me say that this is NOT another "funny animal" book.  Far from it. In fact, if there is any comic work that deserves notice by the community outside of the largely-disinclusive comic-reading public, it's Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo. 

      Why? 

      Because it contains all of the elements that make, not just a great comic book story, but a great story, period.  Interesting characters set against intriguing backgrounds and locations, intelligent storytelling, action, suspense, humor, romance,...if one looks long enough at the volumes of this work that have been collected, all of the above can be found.

      Sakai has mastered the art of telling a fine story, especially where depth of character is concerned.

      After several years of publication, Usagi has a rich supply of recurring characters, all of them captivating in their own right.  But, from what I can tell, Usagi was every bit as enthralling at the beginning as it is now.  Nothing like witnessing a fine creator put his world together. 

      The artwork, also handled by Sakai, is very clear and distinctive.  It is rendered in a very light-hearted, cartoony style that, by some miracle of the pen, does not rob the book of one iota of its dramatic charm.  When appropriate, it can serve comedic purpose, then set a dark, almost brooding tone on the next page.

      How he does it isn't important; that it works is.

      Several volumes of this work are now available, and come highly recommended for all ages.

      Usagi Yojimbo volumes can be found or ordered wherever comic books are sold.

      Usagi Yojimbo, published by Fantagraphics, and Dark Horse Comics, 144 pages, $14.95.

      Review by Mark Allen

 

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