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Bart Beaty Reviews RG, By Pierre Dragon and Frederik Peeters
posted August 24, 2007
 

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By Bart Beaty

Not all comics are great, but few have disappointed me recently as much as RG (Gallimard), the new French cop drama from writer Pierre Dragon and artist Frederik Peeters. It's not so much that so very little happens in the 100+ page book, but that everything about the work is so flattened and cliched. For a book promising to get to the heart of the "real" world of policing, RG completely failed to convince me that it had any genuine insights to offer.

Written by a real-life officer in the Renseignements generaux (RG), the intelligence service of the French police, the book promises a certain level of realism, and a glimpse behind the veil of the anti-terrorism force. Yet nothing in this book seems original, insightful, or, in many cases, even true. RG reads a lot like a book written not by an author, but by a cop living in wish-fulfillment fantasy land. Over the course of the narrative our hero, who is supposedly based on the author himself, bulls his way into the American embassy, effortlessly seduces a woman at the end of a stake-out, gets into a barroom fight where he administers a serious ass-whupping (complete with throwing his opponent through a window), and, oh yeah, disarms a man with a machine-gun and then kills him with his bare hands. Cliche piles upon ridiculous cliche. The Pierre Dragon of RG is a wannabe Mack Bolan, and the result is a seemingly ludicrous narrative passed off as realistic.

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According to the introduction by Gallimard series editor Joann Sfar, RG originated with Sfar's work covering the Mohammed cartoon trial of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, where he met the real-life Dragon (the real-life RG is very involved in monitoring Islamic organizations and anti-globalization forces in France). Sfar was struck by the man's stories of life in the RG, and commissioned the book, bringing in Swiss artist Peeters to put it on the page. Sfar references Peeters' reticence about the material, and it is easy to see why. Peeters', whose best works (Pilules Bleues, Lupus) are highly ironic, is ill-suited for this kind of hyper-macho crapola.

For his part, however, Peeters does what he can with weak material. His panels are much more crowded here than in much of his work, and much less joyful. There are occasional moments when Peeters offers an oddball framing choice, an unexpected close-up or interesting point-of-view, but for the most part he seems hamstrung. The only reason that I picked up the book at all was Peeters' name on the cover, but fans of his previous work are likely to be disappointed in RG, and fans of police procedural comics would probably favor an artist with a more realist style anyway. All in all, it is a bad match.

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That there could be a really good comic produced about the RG I have no doubt. But that comic would need to account for the legacies of French colonialism, the role of the state (and the current French president) in scapegoating the immigrant populations that the RG investigates, and develop a more sophisticated take than the tough-talking French cop has to offer. A comic book version of HBO's The Wire would be welcome. Alas, this is much more akin to a comic book version of TJ Hooker.

*****

RG, Pierre Dragon and Frederik Peeters, Editions Gallimard, 108 Pages, 9782070579075, May 2007

*****

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