Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Trade Waiting - Pachyderme by Frederick Peeters

The medium of comics, often ghettoized by the majority of the western worlds media, is important. As a medium of its own, comics give their creators the ability to tell stories that other platforms just can't provide. (Something that is easy to forget in the time we live, with so many apparently 'indie' comics coming out that read like thinly veiled rejected movie scripts.) The ability to expand worlds and characters with the stroke of a brush is always appealing to creators and fans alike and is definitely easier to digest than say, films, where the pace is always dictated to you by the Director. One of the movie industries most loved, and arguably most lambasted, auteurs is David Lynch. Loved by the many who enjoy his intricate, multi-layered story lines  yet despised by those who, and it is hard to disagree at times, find his work impenetrable and too much like hard work. This reviewer has always felt that Lynch's vision would be aided by the medium of comics and with that in mind we have Pachyderme by Frederick Peeters, a creator who in terms of ideas, characters, and creativity is closer to Lynch than he is any other comic creator. Is it any good? Go ahead and jump.

Story and Art by Frederick Peeters 
Published by Self Made Hero

Pachyderme tells the tale of Madame Sorrel, desperate to get to the bedside of her husband who was seriously injured in a hit and run accident. A traffic jam involving a dead elephant in the middle of the street hinders her progress yet undeterred, she decides to leave her car and take a shortcut through the forest to get there. This is where the sense of unease and to be perfectly honest, the weirdness begins. The forest is the least of Madame Sorrel's issues as once at the hospital Pachyderme goes even further off the beaten path in a seeming never ending quest to get to her lovers bedside. She encounters a Spy vs Spy looking under cover agent who asks her to dig into the doctors apparent Communist leanings, a pair of almost fetal looking discoloured babies who often waxes philosophical to Madame Sorrel, and a morgue that has living dead inhabitants.

Pachyderme also tells the tale of the aforementioned doctor in charge of looking after Mr Sorrel. A man who, in terms of his personality, leads a double life. One half of the doctor is a cheery family man, loving of his wife and loved by his colleagues, staff, and friends. The other half of the doctors personality is one of a womanizer, uncomfortable in his own skin and desperate to get away from the past. Madame Sorrel and the doctors lives are tied together by Mr Sorrel, but not just in a professional sense. Mr Sorrel's occupation as a nuclear physicist gives the two main characters a much more darker connection. As if that wasn't enough, we also get to experience Madame Sorrel's trepidations about her relationship to Mr Sorrel, her loss of independence, and the possibility of another lover lurking between the pages of the story. 

Frederick Peeters is first and foremost a force of nature whose stories benefit from the medium that he has chosen to tell them in. Pachyderme is the sort of story that utilizes the comics to great effect, particularly with the amount of mysteries that Peeters first promises and then ultimately makes good on by the end of the story. Visual clues are planted within this comic from virtually the first panel and once you get to the last page, all of those clues fall into place like a jigsaw puzzle and you quickly begin to appreciate what an intelligent writer Frederick Peeters is. He also uses Mrs Sorrel to great effect as a point of view character. She spends the majority of the comics as lost as the reader is, being drip fed clues and visual motifs throughout the tale until they all end up cascading on top of each other to finally giving you one of the more satisfying payoffs this reviewer has seen in years. Peeters also manages to paint some of the more humanistic characters seen in comics, this is a triumph especially considering the surreal nature of Pachyderme. Madame Sorrel has her faults as both a wife and a human being yet comes across as a completely likable person. The doctor has even more faults, some of which are downright unforgivable, but he also paints a picture of a man who, underneath all the bravado and boisterousness, carries not only the weight of the world on his shoulders but also the demons of his past.

Let us not forget that Frederick Peeters is also a fantastic, confident artist. He has a thick line that is neither too realistic nor too 'cartoony' but like the tale of Goldilocks is just right for what he is trying to achieve. His characters are so full of emotion that at times, there is no need for dialogue to convey the subtle emotions that the characters are expressing. He is also a dab hand at showing off his visual comedy chops, particularly in the scene where the unnamed spy literally climbs out of a copper outlet pipe defying the laws of physic. Like the majority of European artists, Peeters is also a master at the depiction of the inanimate objects, with everything from his cars and architecture to his interior background work looking nothing less than stellar at all times. His colour work is reminiscent of a previous era of Franco-Belgian comics. His palette is muted and strong in Earth tones that completely compliment the story and whilst it doesn't have the wow factor of other comic books (particularly American ones,) it has a subtle beauty that most strive to achieve yet many fail spectacularly at doing. Finally, massive props to UK publisher Self Made Hero who, like last years amazing Incal reprint and more recently the amazing Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon, have outdone themselves with the presentation of Pachyderme. Just above digest size and wrapped in a lovely hard cover, Pachyderme will sit well on your book shelf regardless of what is next to it.

Verdict - Must Buy

As we approach the end of the year, (and if those bonkers Mayans are to be believed the end of the world as we know it,) it is inevitable that the end of year lists will be coming out in their droves. With a haunting and melancholic yet oddly funny tale that stays with you long after you have put the book down, Frederick Peeters name should be all over those top tens. With intelligent and poetic writing coupled with art that could go up against some of Europe's finest, Pachyderme is the true definition of a must buy comic book. Don't believe me? Let me leave you with a quote from the big daddy master himself, Moebius, taken from the introduction he wrote for Pachyderme not long before his passing.

"Pachyderme describes my own unease. I want artists to take me far from any sensation I've ever felt before, into territory that is less the perversion, than the reflection of some intimate, forceful urge." 

Well said sir.

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