Friday, 20 September 2013

Bandette, Volume 1: Presto! by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover Review


Bandette feels like a comic book adaptation of a beloved yet campy 60s TV show like Adam West’s Batman, whose heroes and villains are gleefully parodying their roles, the storylines are wilfully crazy and a freewheeling sense of fun pervades the entire enterprise; but of course it isn’t. Bandette is an original comic by husband and wife team Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover starring Maxime Plouffe, a young lady and our heroine, who trips the light fantastic as her alter ego Bandette the gentlewoman thief, “liberating” works of art from those who have acquired them through illicit means. Assisting her is her little dog Pimento, a delivery boy called Daniel, street kids, and a trio of ballerinas! But her numerous escapades bring her to the attention of a criminal organisation masquerading as a charity: Friends In Need Improvement Society, or FINIS for short, who decide to get rid of Bandette - once and for all! 

Bandette is a really, really charming and delightful character and book. If you’re looking for dark and brooding characters or a world grounded in harsh realism, you won’t find it here. Bandette is a character who is constantly smiling and is surrounded by friends who help her in her puckish rogue adventures - she’s no dark solitary operator. Paul Tobin writes the book in a very breezy, lightweight and accessible style (“How dare you shoot at me? How rude!”) where even though real threats like bank robbers and gangsters appear, they’re not dealt with with over-the-top violence; instead Bandette utilises “knockout spray” (another feature that reminded me of Batman 66) and acting to outwit her foes. 

The comic is drawn in a strongly European-influenced style, probably to match the French setting, like the Commissioner Gordon-type character, Inspector B.D. Belgique, who looks like a cross between Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix and Dupuy and Berberian’s Monsieur Jean, while the settings have a distinctly Herge/Tintin flavour to them. It’s also coloured in a painted style similar to Jill Thompson’s beautiful Beasts of Burden books - but I don’t want to take anything away from Colleen Coover, her art in this book is definitely her own and absolutely gorgeous, I mention all of these artists to say that she’s in good company and the comic looks great. The settings appear clearly but look almost dreamlike when the eye focuses on the characters like a watercolour, and her character designs for Bandette, Monsieur, and Matadori are outstanding. The facial expressions especially are subtle but distinct and in certain panels she even fools you into missing certain details that, when you turn back, you notice were there all along (I’m thinking of the pickpocketing scenes in particular) which displays a truly masterful technique. 

The story itself of Bandette, her rival Monsieur/Leon Corvo, Absinthe and FINIS, is really fun and I loved reading it for that, but it’s the little details that put this book over the top for me. That Bandette is a hero who, in her downtime, enjoys reading books is great; that her outfit turns into civilian clothes is brilliant; and that her hideout is accessed through a puddle is amazing. I love that Belgique constantly swears but that his expletives are deleted (which again reminded me of Asterix where Goscinny and Uderzo came up with the most amazing ways to represent swearing without using words). There’s also one scene in a graveyard where Bandette fights Matadori, an assassin hired by FINIS to bring Bandette to them, and their fight - after the theatrical flourishes both love saying precisely for their theatricality: “And so. We meet at last. Yes! I’ve always wanted to say that!” - divulges into a discussion about clothing, as they’re fighting!

Bandette: By the way your cape is very nice.
Matadori: Oh, thank you!
Bandette: Did you make it yourself?
Matadori: No, I am no good with the needle…

The book ends with a series of short stories drawn by different artists and includes a prose short story by Tobin that fleshes out the Bandette/Daniel the Rad Thai delivery boy storyline, and all of them are excellent. 

Bandette is the real deal, the full package, and whatever other cliches you want to call it - maybe the best one of all: a good read. It won the Eisner this year for Best Digital Comic and deservedly so. Tobin and Coover have created a wonderful character and world that I completely fell for and will definitely be returning to again in the future, especially for the prospect of reading about Bandette and Monsieur’s Great Thieving Race. Tobin’s script is dynamite, Coover’s artwork is sublime, and Bandette is pure joy expertly distilled into a perfect comic - an absolute success on every level. 

Presto!

Bandette Volume 1: Presto!

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