Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary















Home > Bart Beaty's Conversational Euro-Comics

Bart Beaty On Randall C's Slaapkoppen
posted July 16, 2009
 

image

By Bart Beaty

Arguably the best booth in all the tents of Angouleme this year was occupied by the Flemish comics contingent. Set up as the type of faux-bar of Brett Warnock's dreams, the Dutch-speaking Belgians brought a raft of material to the festival that isn't frequently seen. While Belgium is a major comics centre (noted in the frequent use of the term "Franco-Belgian" to describe the dominant tropes of the European style), Flemish comics remain at the periphery due to linguistic and cultural circumstances. This year's festival was a chance to remedy this.

imageFor me, the standout book from this area was Randall C's Slaapkoppen (OOgachtend, 2007), which is also available in French as Les Somnambules (Casterman, 2008). The winner of awards for outstanding debut graphic novel in both Flanders and Holland, the book has already enjoyed a great success in its native tongue.

The success of the book is, I think, largely attributable to the attractiveness of the art. One of the phenomena that I find interesting about comics is how quickly readers judge a work by its art. If you're like me, the vast majority of new comics every Wednesday are rejected with a mere glance. I can take in an entire wall of hundreds of new releases in the space of maybe a minute, immediately honing in on those things that I might find interesting. For me, and for many others, Randall C's work passes that flip test -- the striking simple beauty of the page compositions invites the reader into the world of the book to learn more.

imageLes Somnambules -- the English title would be Sleepwalkers -- is a narrative built from several overlapping dream stories. Beginning as a mixture of poetic romanticism and Beckett-esque absurdity, the story evolves, some will say devolves, into slapstick and farce. With its whales and shipwrecks and talking wolves the whole thing has something of a Disney tone, but at the same time there is an erotic intimacy that would never be found in Walt's work.

The story itself is probably nothing that you haven't read before, but at least the whimsy never seems forced. Where it works best is as a skeleton on which the artist can hang some truly beautiful images. Randall C. has a loose drawing style that is wonderfully accented by an unusual color sensibility. Each panel is awash in a muted individual color (blues, greens, browns, pinks, oranges for the most part), often transitioning uncued from one panel to the next. The color scheme seems, in a word, relaxed, or even calming, and it works with and against the anarchic story-telling style, creating a much more enjoyable effect than would be found in a black-and-white book of the same style.

Despite its awards and its many virtues, this isn't a masterpiece. It is a book that reminds me somewhat of Goodbye, Chunky Rice insofar as it signals the arrival of a potentially major talent. It is clear from Slaapkoppen that Craig Thompson and Randall C. share some sensibilities and some aesthetic influences. Now it remains to be seen if our Flemish friend will leap to that next level as Thompson has.

It is a testimony to the vitality of this book it has already generated an unofficial English-language translation on the invaluable Comix-Influx site, and, of course, the artist himself has a great site.

*****

* Slaapkoppen, Randall C, OOgachtend, 2007, 9789077549377 (ISBN13), 19 Euros.
* Les Somnambules, Randall C, Casterman, January 2009, 9782203019034 (ISBN13), 24 Euros.

*****

* art from various editions of Slaapkoppen

*****

To learn more about Dr. Beaty, or to contact him, try here.

Those interested in buying comics talked about in Bart Beaty's articles might try here or here.

*****

image

*****
*****