Friday, October 31, 2014

Zombillenium, Volume 1: Gretchen

Happy Halloween!

I don't usually vary from my "publish on the 5s" policy for blog posting, but when I was doing some research for another post, I happened upon a familiar name on NBM's list of authors, Arther de Pins. He is a French artist and animator whose work I have admired for some years now, even though I could not really find much of it in English. So when I saw that he had at least one work in English from a publisher I could easily get books from, and that the book was about an amusement park run by monsters, well voila, you are reading the fruits of that happenstance.
Zombillenium begins with scenes of a disgruntled mummy trying to quit his amusement park job and hitchhike to Cairo. He gets picked up by a vampire and talking skeleton who take him back to the park. That was a pretty strange couple of sentences to type. Back at Zombillenium, we learn that it is part of a larger corporation, and that it is 18th out of 20 amusement parks in revenue, largely because people do not find it scary any more. We also are privy to its strange denizens, the logic of the place, and how the higher-ups in management are literally evil incarnate. It seems the bosses have a plan in motion that would unleash a powerful evil on the land, but they also want it to be an attraction that people buy tickets to see. It's almost a perfect metaphor for capitalism (wink).

What makes this book really work for me, aside from its beautiful artwork, is how it both normalizes the supernatural and fantastical cast and setting while also mining them both for humor. We get an unusually realistic look at what a place run by witches, vampires, zombies, demons, and other assorted ghouls would be like. We also get some interesting and surprising scenes, like the one below where the witch Gretchen, who is older and savvier than she appears, handles an armed robber.
The artwork is polished, and pages look almost like series of animation cels. I think that the glossy illustrations and bright color enliven the proceedings, which is only further enhanced by de Pins's depictions facial features and expressions. Sometimes when images are too polished, they seem more like advertisements or cold objects, but here I feel that they are instead masterful and excellent. There seems to be as great glee and attention in capturing small moments and emotions as there is in depicting the gruesome items (severed hands and eyeballs seem particularly popular) available at the monster workers' cafeteria and the Gothic architecture of the park.

This book is the first of a series that won the Angoulême Fauve Award for best youth comic in France, and all the reviews of it I have read have been laudatory. Mark Squirek praised de Pins' work, calling it "his best story yet." Publishers Weekly wrote, "De Pins does a wonderful job of creating a brand of humor that matches perfectly the cartoony world of monsters he presents." The School Library Journal's Mike Pawuk called it "just outstanding and a treat." That last review in particular raises a point about who the audience for this book is. It does seem to be for children, though their are some adult situations and strong language. I'd say this is a parents' discretion book that requires review before sharing.
his best story yet
Angoleme Comic Convention Award for Best Youth Comic in France - See more at:

Zombillenium is published by NBM in America, and you can find video preview and much more at the series' official site

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