Jerome K. Jerome Bloche v1 cover detail

Jerome K. Jerome Bloche v1: “Aina”

Writer: Alain Dodier
Artist: Alain Dodier
Colorist: Cerise
Lettering: Calix Ltd.
Translator: Emma Wilson
Published by: Dupuis/Europe Comics
Number of Pages: 56
Original Publication: 2016


Storyboard Storytelling Style

A couple years ago, I wrote a column where I talked about what I thought the next wave of comic book storytelling would be.  I thought it would be influenced more by storyboarding, as it was a style I had seen a lot of at the time.

I defined it as a style where each panel….

  • …tells the smallest bit of time possible to match a story beat.
  • …has a focus that directly matches the dialogue or caption.
  • …represents a cut in camera.

Many people, including at least one of the artists I mentioned in the piece, disagreed with me. It was an interesting thought experiment, though, and I think it’s one that Alain Dodier’s work on “Jerome K. Jerome” would fit neatly into, as well. (You can read the original column here, though the formatting on it is way off since the CBR redesign. Maybe I should reprint it here someday?)

Dodier isn’t using the comic book format to its ultimate ends here.  He locks his storytelling down into a tight grid — four rows high and usually two usually evenly sized panels across.  I’ve never read a comic book with more regular pacing in its panelling, or that looked more like a series of storyboards. Even Watchmen doesn’t stick to nine panels on a page as often as Dodier sticks to eight on a page here.  Dodier’s storytelling uses more cinematic conventions than comic book sequential image storytelling.

Of all the things I’ve read this year, the closest in style I can picture to this book is Matthieu Bonhomme’s “The Man Who Shot Lucky Luke.”

Take this example. It’s the first page of the album

A car cross the panel in Alain Dodier's storytelling

Click to see the large version. (And, yes, of course it isn’t eight panels, after I built that up earlier. Just my luck.)

It’s such a small thing, but you can really feel the camera follow the car across the page, from right to left and back to front, before it eases just past our point of view and the girl jumps up to run away.  We know she’s running away, because she’s going the opposite direction from the way the car moved across the page.

Generally speaking, right to left is antagonistic motion, while left to right “feels” better.  The car is filled with the bad guys, and moved right to left. The underdog we’re rooting for is the only one moving in that “Feel Good” direction.

You can also see how Dodier uses foreground, mid-ground and background to show the story in three dimensions.

Check out the headlights in the third panel and how they break up the heavy black inks on the back of the SUV to indicate where the light hits.

Heck, I even dig the way he draws rain.


A Mystery Thriller

Here’s the description of the book straight from Izneo:

A young woman, who doesn’t speak a word of English, shows up in Father Arthur’s church seeking refuge. Father Arthur takes her under his wing, but things soon take a turn for the worse when her pursuers show up on his doorstep. It’s not long before the padre, concerned for his kidnapped protegée’s well-being, calls on his friend Jerome Bloche. Together, they seek out the mysterious Aina and her captors, but they soon realize that not only are they up against a rather intimidating security guard, but some difficult moral questions.

All of the above is true and fair.  The girl, Aina, is a frustrating mystery box because of the language barrier.  She speaks only Swahili.  I don’t know how much of the Swahili on this book is authentic, or how much of it is just random letters.  Every time I saw it in use, I’d skim over it.

Aina prays in church

The story is, indeed, a mystery box.  We don’t know what’s going on.  Jerome doesn’t know.  The bodyguard and the girl and everyone around them does, but Dodier works hard to obscure that from us.  It preserves the mystery until — the end.  Suddenly, as the lies start breaking apart and continuing them gets more difficult, everything is explained in the span of a page or two and the final pages of the book take a sudden turn in a new direction. That’s where the moral questions come into play.

The problem with this is that everything comes out at once.  It’s pure exposition. At some point, yes, things would have to be clearly explained to Jerome and, by proxy, the audience.  But it doesn’t feel like Dodier left enough clues about this situation leading up to that point.  You couldn’t possibly work out the scenario behind the events of this book until they’re handed to you on a silver platter.  In any mystery, you need to give the reader a chance to figure something out.  I don’t think this book does that. Maybe the truth could have dribbled out over a few more pages to give the reader a chance to play along longer?

It’s a good thing that everything is so clearly explained, also, as one of the angles of this book relies on something that is illegal in the country the book takes place in (Belgium, maybe?), but isn’t in America.

The good news is that the rest of the book is fantastic.  From the protracted opening scene with a foot race through the city and a couple of tense confrontations along the way, to the car chase midway through, to Aina’s escape attempt — Dodier’s storytelling is superb, and his art is clear, meticulous, and consistent.


The Art of Dodier

Dodier drawing people

This is likely as close to ligne claire a style that I’ve ever liked.  Dodier’s art is so crisp and clean, it reminds me of Jeff Smith just a bit.  Those ink lines are so assured and so well thought out that every panel of art looks clean and completely thought through.

Characters behave like real humans, always. There’s no extra exaggeration or stretch and squash on these pages.  Characters act naturally, but they do act, with a good variety of gestures and facial expressions.

Combined with the coloring that I’ll get to next, this book feels like a slightly grown up Tintin having adventures around town.  All he needs is a pet dog.


The Colors of Cerise

There’s a lot of talk in comics circles about flat coloring versus the more sculpted or modeled kind of coloring that tries to impart three dimensionally on a pen and ink drawn 2D drawing.

I’ve warmed up to flatter colors a lot in recent years.  I’ve grown to prefer simpler shading and some small textures.

This book, though, is as flat as it gets and you might not even notice it.  Part of that is because the art is so well thought out and detailed, but part of it is just the careful suggestion of shadows and the selection of colors.  What Cerise does with Dodier’s art is a perfect job. It’s a spectacular book to look at and study for its coloring.  It’s so deceptively simple looking.  Flat colors dominate.  I can’t find a single gradient or texture in the book.  It keeps everything looking clean and lively.  It’s such a nice departure from the rest of the over-rendered colors we get in too many books today.

Adrian Dodier draws a mean building, with flat colors on top

Click for a larger version

To be fair, this house was drawn inside the last two years.  It’s very likely that Dodier used Sketch-Up.  The left side of the building and the skinny window frames scream Sketch-Up to me. It still looks nice, though.  Dodier still adds his own touch with things like the shingles on the roof.  He didn’t meticulously draw everyone of those in.

What really draws me to this panel, though, is the coloring.  That sky is a flat blue. Cerise did not paint clouds in.  There’s no sunset gradient added to the sky.  The shadows on the building are simple — a slightly darker version of the building’s color faces away from the light source on the left side of the building.  Finally, the red curtains help draw your eye to where the character is talking from.

The colors throughout the book are similarly restrained, so the palette choice is key. Much of the backgrounds in the book are plain, earthen tones. The characters jump off from there, often wearing primary colored clothes, such as Jerome’s yellow jack or Aina’s blue jacket and red scarf in the opening scene.


The Weird Lettering Thing In This Book

This is usually the portion of the review where I’d find some weird technical error in the lettering to complain about.

Yeah, I found one in here, too.

Overall, the book looks great from a lettering perspective.  The bouncy balloon tails give the book extra life.  The lettering fits in the balloons perfectly.  The letterforms look like a good old fashioned comic book font that isn’t trying to be anything else.  The bold-faced letters when people are raising the voices has extra life.  It’s all good.

The one problem is the lead character’s name, Jerome.  The font used on this book has that weird thing where it uses the dotted form of certain letters, like “I” and “J” at odd times. Capital-“I” always gets the crossbar.  Lowercase “I” is a dotted-“I” and not just a vertical line.  With the “J”,  both upper and lower-case letterforms use the dotted version.

Dotted J lettering is bade when your lead character's name is Jerome

When your lead character’s name is “Jerome K. Jerome,” this can look really weird…

I mean, the lowercase “I” with the dot looks weird, too, but that lowercase-looking “J” at the start of his name is ugly.


Another Weird Digital Classification Thing

This one isn’t as strange as the problem with “Melusine” and its out of order numbering.  It does, however, veer close to that.

This series has been going on for nearly 35 years. So far, only the most recent three volumes have been translated into English.

Those are volumes 23, 24, and 25.

They were released as volumes 3, 2, and 1.

Is the plan to work in reverse chronological order and the original volume 1 will one day be the English language volume 25?



Alain Dodier's Jerome K. Jerome Bloche v1 cover

Yes, though not without reservation.  The story is good, though I think it ends a little abruptly and doesn’t give enough clues along the way. I’m curious to read more to see if that’s always the case and it’s an issue with Dodier’s writing, or if it’s just an issue with this volume.

The art and the storytelling do more than enough great work to hold me over while I figure that out.  Dodier is a master storyteller, with a strict style that stays realistic without phototracing. His characters come alive and do interesting things without looking stiff.  And his eye for moving the virtual camera around a scene to tell a story is expert.

It’a  good looking book with an interesting story.  I’m definitely reading more.

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #91.)


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