Magnificent: an adjective seldom used in this review column and
dreamily appropriate for a new graphic novel from Europe, Brusel.
Its plot is magnificently intriguing. Goaded by a visionary
scientist, the government of Brusel redesigns its twisting, nightmarish
streets and antiquated buildings into a completely functional, modern
city. During the 19th century setting of Brusel, modern means 'an homage
to cityscapes from the covers of 1930s science-fiction magazines'.
A 'modern' florist selling a new product that never fades--plastic
flowers--is enmeshed with these bureaucrats who attempt to scientific-ally
control life, and with a beautiful woman who entangles him in her skirts
and an underground movement that wants to destroy the reconstruction.
Its art is a magnificent reverie. The cityscapes of artist Francois
Schuiten are heavily influenced by the Winsor McCay comic strip
masterpiece, Little Nemo in Slumberland, and SF magazine covers now seven
decades re-moved. Like McCay, Schuiten is a trained architect. Like those
old SF covers, Schuiten's cities capture a sense of grandeur, awe, and
Every other aspect of Schuiten's visual storytelling is equality as
entertaining and technically superb. This is a rare artistic jewel in
which many panels deserve long and delightful study as Brusel is read over
and over again.
This charming muddle of different eras, dream, and reality is a
satire that ridicules bloated bureaucracy, over-blown urbanization, pseudo-science,
and Kafkaesque disenfranchisement from society. More importantly, it is
proof that there are comic books that adults will not only enjoy, but also
So, if you love it so much, Mr. Fancy-Pants reviewer, why don't you
Oh, if only. But this graphic novel is out of my league.
Two restrained sexual situations will off-put some readers, but Brusel is one of the best graphic novels of 2001, and remains very highly recommended for adults.
Review by Michael Vance
Brusel/120 pgs., $19.95/story by Benoit Peeters/sold in book and
comics shops, or at www.nbmpublishing.com.
Meet Miyamoto Usagi. Usagi
is a ronin, or "masterless samurai," who lives in turn of the
17th century Japan. On the tail of civil war, the samurai has become the
ruling class throughout the land, living by the honor-code known as
"bushido." Oh, did I also mention that Usagi is a..., well, a rabbit..?
Yes, a rabbit.
Now, before you totally disengage, let me say that this is NOT
another "funny animal" book.
Far from it. In fact, if there is any comic work that deserves
notice by the community outside of the largely-disinclusive comic-reading
public, it's Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo.
Because it contains all of the elements that make, not just a great
comic book story, but a great story, period.
Interesting characters set against intriguing backgrounds and
locations, intelligent storytelling, action, suspense, humor,
romance,...if one looks long enough at the volumes of this work that have
been collected, all of the above can be found.
Sakai has mastered the art of telling a fine story, especially
where depth of character is concerned.
After several years of publication, Usagi has a rich supply of
recurring characters, all of them captivating in their own right.
But, from what I can tell, Usagi was every bit as enthralling at
the beginning as it is now. Nothing
like witnessing a fine creator put his world together.
The artwork, also handled by Sakai, is very clear and distinctive.
It is rendered in a very light-hearted, cartoony style that, by
some miracle of the pen, does not rob the book of one iota of its dramatic
charm. When appropriate, it
can serve comedic purpose, then set a dark, almost brooding tone on the
How he does it isn't important; that it works is.
Several volumes of this work are now available, and come highly
recommended for all ages.
Usagi Yojimbo volumes can be found or ordered wherever comic books
Usagi Yojimbo, published by Fantagraphics, and Dark Horse Comics,
144 pages, $14.95.
Review by Mark Allen
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