One of the radio shows in Portland once did a call-in dating show. There was an eligible bachelorette in the studio. The bachelorette would ask a question and, dating game style, people would call in and answer it, hoping to score a date. It made for painful radio.
One of the questions that struck me, however, was the following: If you could commit any minor cime and not get caught, what would it be?
Most of the callers had some variation of driving really fast on a windy stretch of I-5. But it got me thinking. What minor crime would I commit if I knew I could get away with it? Finally it dawned on me: breaking and entering.
The Portland Art Museum is a pretty wonderful place. It has an amazing collection of both classic and modern art. It is also staffed with an alarming number of senior citizens in blue blazers who will speak quite sternly to you if you get even remotely close to any of the pieces of art. So, if I could commit any crime and get away with it, I would break in to the Portland Art Museum and look as closely as I wanted at all of the art.
Now, if I lived in Paris it would be an entirely different story. I would break in to the Louvre and look at all the amazing art as closely and as long as I wanted without anyone moving me away (or wondering if I was going to pull a Peruggia).
NBM must have the same idea. Several years ago they struck an agreement with The Louvre to produce a series of comics that involve the fabled museum. Each book in the series stands on its own and approaches the idea of the museum from a different perspective.
The latest book in this series is Rohan at the Louvre by Hirohiko Araki.
Rohan, a young mangaka, meets a beautiful mysterious young woman with a dramatic story. Seeing him draw, she tells him of a cursed 200 year old painting using the blackest ink ever known from a 1000 year old tree the painter had brought down without approval from the Emperor who had him executed for doing so. The painting meanwhile had been saved from destruction by a curator of the Louvre. Rohan forgets this story as he becomes famous but ten years later, visiting Paris, he takes the occasion to try and locate the painting. Little does he know how violently powerful the curse of it is until he has the museum unearth it from deep within its archival bowels…
I must say that, after reading two of the previous books in the Louvre series, this is by far my favorite of the group. The story is riveting, drawing in the reader, slowly but surely to a dark mystery. The pacing is strong and builds up the tension nicely. Araki blends the fantasy elements of manga and Japanese folk tales with the realistic edge of European comics.
But the real strength of the book is the art. Forget that this is by a mangaka. Forget everything you know about manga. This is manga filtered through the lens of a European comic. The linework is superb, never losing the manga soul, while embracing euro-comic sensibilities. The characters live and breathe in a world that is equal parts fantasy and reality, making the reader constantly question what is real and what is imagined for the comic. Never has a fusion like this looked or felt so good!
The production value on the comic is above and beyond as well. For $19.99 you get a full-color, 128 page hardcover book. The paper quality is top notch and the printer paid close attention to the colors. Nothing is garishly bright or overly washed out, allowing for the colors of the story to fully impact the mood and feel of the book. Rohan at the Louvre belongs on everyone’s shelf!
This book has rocketed to the top of my “Best of” list for the year. Demand that your local comic shop order a copy for you and one or two for the shelves. Rohan at the Louvre is out now from NBM.
Check out a 4 page preview here.