There is no way to hype this book without it sounding like a pretentious version of Night at the Museum. Problem is it is a complex and interesting if flawed read.
Credits & Solicit Info:
On The Odd Hours
Published by NBM under its Musee DU Louvre Editions
Written and Illustrated by Eric Liberge
The highly successful series of graphic novels co-published with the Louvre museum in Paris ("Glacial Period", "Museum Vaults") continues with its next outstanding graphic novel. This time, the author invites us on a guided tour of the museum... by night... when the works of art come alive. Our guide: a deaf night watchman who somehow manages to communicate with the souls of those ethereal and timeless works of art. A visual tour de force with a strong edge of the frighteningly fantastic.
61/2 x 9, 72 pages, full color trade paperback with flaps: $14.95
This is the third volume created in conjunction with the Louvre. I really point that out as a point of interest. There is much talk about whether or not comics are seen as a legitimate medium. While a definitive answer to that question is not to be produced here, I think the such a renowned museum of art taking an interest in the art form is more then enough to say it is indeed a reasonable and respectable pursuit.
If you are new to the series, as was I, then you need not worry. This is a self contained story. It is the story of a young deaf man who is a student. He needs to take on an internship to finish his requirements. When he goes to an interview at the famed museum, he has no idea how his life is about to change. It seems he is chosen to be a special protector of the museum. A night guard privy to secrets of the institution that are fantastic and unbelievable, even to some of those who are aware of the need for this unique position.
I have never read anything by Liberge before. I am curious as to his other work though. First of all, the artwork is spectacular. He has a rich, European style that would be home at Soliel or Archaia. However, it is how he uses that art that is so outstanding. First off, there are his layouts, which are chaotic -panels almost haphazardly placed. However, it is deceptively intuitive. No matter how bizarre or irrational the panels seemed to be progressing, I never found myself at a loss to know exactly where to go next. It was an impressive display of storytelling ability.
Next, the depiction of signing in the book is amazing. He uses a kind of elapsed art that allows the insane quick movements of the sign language literate to be conveyed in a single still picture. Add to this, his constant fascination with making sound visible in the panels and his rendering of famous art pieces - and you have a book that is visually exciting and exemplary.
The package is a bit of a mixed bag. The entire time I was reading it, it felt like its quasi digest size harmed it. I think it would be a little more clear (and certainly easier to read) if it were a big oversized book. However, for its size at $14.95, it is a little on the expensive side. But, it is filled with an entertaining fantasy and easily feels longer and larger than it is. It also has some nice back matter about the history of the guards and the museum’s relationship with deaf patrons. All of this adds to the authenticity of the piece.
Unfortunately, while the story is compelling, the author’s narrative skills in words are not as strong as his artistic talent. There are weird chunks of the story missing. It could be that it is all building to a mystery, which part of it is, but there are no elegant solutions to some of them. Our protagonist is angry, maybe because he is deaf, but it obviously hurts his relationships, schoolwork, and eventually his new job - yet he makes no effort to explain his anger, rectify the situations created or calm himself down. This leads to needless confrontations, maybe Liberge wanted this, who knows?
It’s also not really clear what is going on with the art. It seems to be coming to life or maybe it just moves... I don’t know and that’s a problem. There are also things like the musical instrument stuff not ever being explained but only becoming apparent after it has been used three or four times. Then there is an underground or above the museum archive that is hidden and the mechanics make about as much sense as the inside of the TARDIS being the size of an office building when it is just a police box.
Don’t get me wrong. This is an ambitious and compelling read. It is very entertaining. In fact, it really overcomes the problems with the story (and package) and works - somehow. It is certainly worth a look for the more adventurous reader.
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