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I first heard of ‘Death Note‘ by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata years back when I was discussing manga comics with a friend. My friend said that it was her favourite. Later, I discovered that it was a cult classic. One day in my book club, there was a long discussion on ‘Death Note‘ and I discovered that some of my book club members were huge ‘Death Note‘ fans. So I thought that one day I should read it. That day turned out to be today.

The story told in ‘Death Note‘ goes like this. Shinigami are a kind of supernatural beings who live in their own realm. One of them is important to us – his name is Ryuk. Ryuk has a notebook called ‘Death Note’. The thing about this notebook is that when a human being’s name is written on it with a date and time, that person will die at the appointed time. One day Ryuk accidentally drops the Death Note into the human world. And a high school teenager called Light Yagami finds it. The Death Note has instructions in it on how it can be used. Light reads it and he doesn’t believe it. He thinks it is all a prank. Does Light discover the true secret of the notebook? What does he do with it? What does Ryuk have to say about it? You have to read the book to find out.

I loved the first volume of ‘Death Note‘. I was expecting it to be dark and scary, and looking at the way Ryuk is represented, he does look extremely scary. But the book is anything but. It is cool and stylish, the story is fast-paced, and Ryuk belies his scary looks – he is actually cool and stylish and charming, speaks some wonderful lines, and he is one of my favourite characters from the story. How his character develops across the subsequent volumes, I have to wait and see. The story is mostly a cat-and-mouse game of two people trying to trap each other and it is quite gripping. The artwork is nice. I can’t wait to read the second part and find out what happens next.

Have you read ‘Death Note‘? What do you think about it?

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I have wanted to read ‘Jeremiah‘ ever since I discovered it, because it was written and illustrated by one of my favourite Belgian artists, Hermann. I finally got around to reading the first omnibus volume.

The volume I read had the first three comics in the series. The story is set in America, in a post-apocalyptical world, which has resulted probably because of a nuclear war. It looks like people are back in the nineteenth century. Jeremiah is a young man who lives in a village, who is noble, innocent and naive. He meets Kurdy, who is streetsmart and who is aware of the ways of the world. The stories follow the adventures of these two as they get entangled into one event after another. Hermann said in an interview that he worked on many Westerns before he created ‘Jeremiah’ and we can see that influence here, because the story is filled with lots of Western elements.

There is good news and bad news. The good news first. The main characters are interesting and well-developed. The dialogue is interesting and humorous. The places where the events of the story happen have been depicted so beautifully. And the most important thing, of course. The artwork. Hermann has a very distinctive style, and that is the reason I love his art. That distinctive style, the vintage Hermann artwork is unfurled in all its glory here. It is beautiful and exquisite. The colours are vivid and spectacular. It is a pleasure to look at every panel. I loved it.

Now the bad news. I found all the stories mostly middling. They started off well and were fascinating till around one-third of the way but after that they meandered away into some kind complexity which was hard to understand, because the story started with so much promise. In the first story, the villain was a cartoonish character which was disappointing. In the third story, I felt that the story didn’t fit into the spirit of the series and at some point the story became too complex for its own good. I liked the second story the best – it was like an old-fashioned Western.

I am hoping that the plot will improve as we venture deeper into the series. I have the second volume of this series too, and I hope to read it sometime soon.

I am sharing some pages of the book so that you can get a feel for its artwork.

Have you read the ‘Jeremiah‘ series? What do you think about it? Do you like Belgian comics?

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I read a little bit of ‘The Lost Dutchman’s Mine’ by Jean-Michel Charlier and Jean ‘Mœbius’ Giraud many years back. I remember liking it very much, but it was very long compared to the other comics I used to read – the typical comic that I read at that time was between 32 and 62 pages long, while this one was around 100 pages long – and so I got distracted halfway through and never got around to finishing it. I finally picked it up again today, and finished reading it in one sitting.

The Lost Dutchman’s Mine‘ is one of the famous stories in the Blueberry series. In this story Blueberry is temporarily stationed in a town in Arizona to help in upholding the law. His friend and assistant, the old man Jimmy, is his deputy. There is a brawl in the bar and two people are trying to kill each other. Blueberry stops the fight, and a rrests one of the people involved. The fight seems to be about a goldmine in the land of Apaches that this man has discovered. No one believes this man, but then one thing leads to another, strange men come to the town looking for this man, and before long, both the good guys and the bad are on their way to this mythical goldmine filled with secret treasure. What happens after that forms the rest of the story.

The Lost Dutchman’s Mine‘ is an old-fashioned Western. There is a small town, there is the desert, there is the mountain, there is a bar brawl, there are horse-riders-chasing scenes, there are Apaches, there is secret treasure – all the enjoyable elements of a classic Western are present. It is intricately plotted, the action moves at a beautiful pace, there are twists and turns and there is a surprising revelation at the end. The artwork by Jean ‘Mœbius’ Giraud is very interesting and unique and received a lot of acclaim when this book and the Blueberry series first came out, because of its realistic portrayal of the places and characters.

I enjoyed reading ‘The Lost Dutchman’s Mine‘. I didn’t love it as much as I had hoped to – I really loved the first part when I read it the first time years back but it didn’t have the same impact on me now – but I still enjoyed reading it. I am glad I finally read it and I got to finish the book. Jean ‘Mœbius’ Giraud’s artwork is an acquired taste – my favourite Belgian comic artists are William Vance and Hermann – but hopefully one day I’ll be able to appreciate it better.

I am sharing some of the pages of the book so that you can get a feel for the story and the artwork. If you want to read the book, you can find it here.

Have you read ‘The Lost Dutchman’s Mine‘? What do you think about it?

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I have wanted to read ‘Batchalo‘ by Michaël Le Galli and Arnaud Bétend, for a long time, and today I took it down from my bookshelf and read it in one breath.

In February 1939, a caravan of Tzigane gypsies (Hungarian gypsies) come and camp in the outskirts of a small village in Bohemia. They visit that village regularly to sell the beautiful stuff they make. But this time, a couple of children in the village go missing. The villagers suspect the tziganes. When the villages visit the tziganes to ask about it, they discover that the tziganes are closing camp and leaving. This leads to suspicions that the tziganes might have stolen their children. But after some questioning, the tziganes reveal that some of their own children who have been playing with the village children have gone missing too, and so they are going in search of the missing children. The village policeman, Josef, who is also the narrator of the story, joins them, because his own son is one of the missing children. What adventures befall the tziganes and Josef? Are they able to find the missing children? The answers to these are revealed in the rest of the story.

Batchalo‘ is a beautiful, poignant, heartbreaking story. It is an account of the life and the culture and the mythology of the gypsies – a community who don’t belong to any country, who have their own culture and beliefs, and who believe in freedom and living under the open sky – how the Nazis try suppressing them, and what happens in the aftermath. We see the events unfolding through the eyes of Josef, the policeman. Though I liked Josef, my favourite character was Silenka, the gypsy medicine woman and witch who takes Josef under her wing. She is strong, inspiring, fearless, and speaks her mind. The sepia-tinted artwork by Arnaud Bétend is exquisite and is a visual treat which sets a melancholic, atmospheric tone to the story. I read that it took him four years to complete the artwork featured in the book.

I loved ‘Batchalo‘. It is one of my favourite graphic novels. I want to read more about the European gypsy community and the Tzigane community now. I am sharing the first few pages of the book, so that you can get a feel for its artwork and atmospheric tone.

Have you read ‘Batchalo‘? What do you think about it?

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I have read Tex Willer comics since my pre-teen years in school. It is a spaghetti western – western comics published by an Italian publisher. The first Tex Willer comic came out in 1948 and the publisher says that around 625 books have come out till now. The series follows the adventures of Tex Willer and his pals – Kit Carson, his longtime friend who has a wonderful sense of humour, Tiger, his Navajo friend and Kit Willer, his own son. Most of the adventures are set in Arizona and so the Grand Canyon keeps coming up in one form or another in the stories. Tex Willer’s wife was from the Navajo tribe and after he married her he became the head of the Navajo tribe. (His Native American name is ‘Eagle of the Night’.) So he is in a unique position to see the good and the not-so-good things on both the sides – the Native American side as well as the European settlers’ side. A typical Tex Willer story involves a few bad guys who try to destroy the fragile peace which exists at present by provoking people or indulging in violent and unlawful activities. Tex Willer and his friends arrive on the scene, fight against the bad guys, carry out daredevil actions, which are realistic, and come out trumps in the end. I picked the present book a couple of days back because I was in the mood to read a comic and I finished reading it in one sitting. Here is what I think.

 

Tamil cover

 Sigappai Oru Soppanam

 

Italian cover

 Tra il cielo e l'inferno

 

‘Sigappai Oru Soppanam’ starts with a young prophet from one of the Native American tribes having a vision. This man’s name is Manitari. In his vision the goddess of his tribe says that the sun will become dark soon but it will brighten up again and when it brightens all Native American tribes will be able to fight with the white settlers and drive them away from their land and the old order will return back. Manitari goes to his village and tells everyone about his vision. He also goes to the villages of other tribes and describes his vision. One day the sun gets dark, because of an eclipse. Then most of the Native Americans who have heard of Manitari’s prophecy start believing in him. Manitari’s tribe gets smuggled guns and organizes itself into an army to fight with the army forces at the fort nearby. Tex Willer and his pals enter the scene here. The commandant of the fort invites them to discuss this with them. However they are ambushed by Manitari’s armed warriors on the way before they are saved by the army from the fort. Tex Willer and his companions talk to the fort commander and make a plan to foil Manitari’s designs to upset the existing fragile peace, which has been built in the area after many years of effort. Will Tex Willer and his pals succeed in their efforts? The answer to this question forms the rest of the story.

 

‘Sigappai Oru Soppanam’ is vintage Tex Willer – it has everything that one expects in a Tex Willer comic. The book is long – around 240 pages. The initial action scene where the Native American warriors ambush Tex Willer and his pals is action packed and gripping. The illustrations – the portraits which show the wrinkles on the faces, the horses’ hooves, the shooting fights, the silhouettes – are brilliant, wonderful, breathtaking, lifelike. In many places in the action scenes, there is no dialogue – it is like watching an action movie. Kit Carson’s humour lightens the tension and makes us smile. The old fox has still not lost his touch J There are many vintage campfire conversations. There are no major women characters in the story – like it normally is in a typical Tex Willer comic. There is one young woman character in this book though, who comes for a brief while and plays an important role. The only complaint I have about the book was in the way Manitari was portrayed – he is a man who was bullied when he was a boy, and got away from his tribe and went to the wilderness to meditate and had visions. He is sincere in his efforts and in wanting his people to regain their glory days. He doesn’t look like a villain to me – or atleast definitely not a black-hearted one. But the ‘good’  characters try to portray Manitari as the main villain, in their conversations. I don’t know whether this was the intention of the original creators of this story or whether this has crept in during the translation. Eventhough I didn’t want Manitari’s designs to succeed, I felt sorry for him in the end.

 

If you like a rip-roaring western adventure with lots of gunfights you will love this. It is a pity that it is not translated into English.

 

Have you read ‘Sigappai Oru Soppanam’ (‘Tra il cielo e l’inferno’)? What do you think about it?

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