Long John Silver v1 cover header

Long John Silver v1: “Lady Vivian Hastings”

I went into this book totally blind.  I didn’t even read the blurb on the back cover.  I just liked the looks of the art in the preview pages, and the writing didn’t seem overbearing.

If you want to go into blind like me, skip this next paragraph, which is Cinebook’s summary copy from their website:

Twenty years after the events of Treasure Island, Lady Vivian Hastings knocks on Dr Livesey’s door. Her hated husband has sent word from the Amazon: He has found the fabled city of Guiana-Capac, and his brother is to sell the entire domain to pay for an expedition, dispossessing Vivian in the process. So the lady has come to seek the one man who can help her: Long John Silver…

It’s a wonderful series, overall, but today I just want to talk about the first volume.  In particular, its wonderful characters…

 

The Completely Spoiler-Free Short Form Review

There’s so much I want to say about the book, but most of it would wind up being in spoiler territory.  So let’s try using this section to do the short non-spoiler overview/review of the book.

It’s awesome.  The story by Xavier Dorison is a tense thriller, starting in the stately castles of England and ending on the dockyards filled with pirates.  We see the best and worst of people in this book. OK, it’s pretty much all the worst.  The main characters in this book are basically all miserable people doing bad thing for different reasons.  Dorison provides most of those reasons, which makes the book so compelling.

As mean and as controlling as Lady Vivian Hastings is, it all make sense.  She’s a woman of her time with her back to the wall forced to do some pushy things to survive. Even when you cringe when she does some of the things she does, you understand why.  That’s the best trick Dorison pulls off here.

Long John Silver is an aging pirate whose best days are behind him, but who is still up for a good adventure.  He has his own pirate’s code, some of which we learn about here.  If you’ve read “Treasure Island,” some of it will make even more sense.  (I haven’t, but Wikipedia schooled me pretty quickly.)

This book is, indeed, setting up the overall four album story arc, but it is not a wasted volume by any means.  It is a dramatic and as tense as any story you could ask for.  The face that it’s setting up more extravagant things in the books ahead should just make your mouth water.

The art by Matthieu Lauffray is amazing.  His inky dark style is evocative and moody, with clear storytelling and dramatic angles.  He draws realistic people, but with just enough of a touch of “cartooniness” to animate them into interesting positions in interesting places.

It is a great start to the series, and one that is definitely worth your time.

Now, let’s break this book down further:

 

The Fascinating Lady Vivian Hastings

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Lady Vivian Hastings. Xavier Dorison’s script does a magnificent job in showing what a complex character she is, step by step.

She is a wonderful character.  She is both detestable and pitiable. She’s cunning and conniving.  She’s a victim and a schemer.  She’s the kind of prime time soap opera character you love to hate. You know the next thing she does might not be “right” or “moral” or “good,” but you’re going to be fascinated by how her mind works to get her to those places.

You root for her as something of an anti-hero.

Lady Vivian Hasting in Long John Silver v1

The rest of this section will contain spoilers for this volume, just because I can’t see any other way to explain it.  If you want to skip ahead, just trust me that she’s fascinating and come back after you’ve read the book.

Lady Vivian is caught between a rock and a hard place.  Her husband’s obsession over a nearly mythical lost treasure in the Amazon leads him to long trips away from home and his wife.  She, in turn, has affairs and is generally a nasty person.  She likely didn’t even care much about her husband.  There’s an inference in the book that her father helped to arrange this marriage somehow, a sin for which he’s an even bigger evil in her eyes.

After Lord Hastings doesn’t return from one of his adventures for three years, she plans to marry the man with whom she’s having an affair.  It’ll be convenient because she’s running out of money and can use his.  Oh, and she’s pregnant with his child.

But, hey, her husband’s been gone for three years.  Time to presume his death and move on, right?  Of course!

Like all good plans, it’s quickly  and abruptly halted when her husband’s brother shows up at her doorstep with the “good” news that her husband is still alive and needs lots of money to finish his life’s work. And that’s extremely bad news for Lady Vivian, whose about to lose everything in the process.

But, by aligning herself with some of the bad people, she might just be able to salvage everything.  With some quick planning, preying on people’s fears and egos, and maybe a feminine wile or two, she’s destined to come back from the brink.

Right?

This is another one of those books that would-be comics writers could learn a lot from through a careful dissection of Hasting’s actions and dialogue and how it frames her character to the reader.  It also shows how her motivations help to explain her actions.

The Pirates

Matthieu Lauffray can draw some cool classic pirates, too!

Yes, this book also features some pirates.

Long John Silver is the product of the imagination of Robert Louis Stevenson’s mind, where he starred in the classic novel, “Treasure Island.”  I’ve never read it, but that’s OK.  This story is separated enough from it that it doesn’t matter.  From what I’ve read on Wikipedia, there are some references to the original novel in this series, but it’s never something you need to connect to understand.

Silver is an interesting pirate. He is a smart pirate, capable of clever planning and a deft handling of his crew and their diverse personalities. But he also has a temper that can be hard to control, and he’s not afraid to get violent at a moment’s notice if it suits his goals.  He’s a rogue and a scoundrel, but he has his own moral code.  We see, specifically, in this book that there’s one line he will not cross and doesn’t think others should.

There’s a plot point in this book where Long John get violent against a man who is proposing taking slaves back in the ship.  I didn’t grasp the full impact of that stance until I read that Wikipedia page and saw that in “Treasure Island,” Long John is married to an African woman.  Knowing that certainly helps to inform that decision, aside from a modern attempt to make an older character “progressive” with a random humanitarian streak.

He’s the title character of the book and a driving force, no doubt, but this first book belongs to Vivian Hastings.  Long John will get more time in the spotlight in future volumes.

 

The Art of Matthew Lauffray

Matthieu Lauffray can draw a mean ship, too.

As compelling as Dorison’s story is, Lauffray’s art cannot be overlooked.  It’s a crucial part of telling this story so well.  Lauffray’s art is not slick, smooth, or clean. It’s dirty, filled with brush strokes and incomplete lines, and all the tricks classic comic book artists use to indicate shadows and textures.  It fills every page and leaves as little white space as possible.

Lauffray’s style reminds me a bit of American artists like Tom Mandrake and Lee Weeks, with a bit of Gene Colan thrown in there.

Check out this exposition dump.  THIS is how you want to have an exposition dump appear in a comic, as a writer:

An exposition dump in "Long John Silver" v1 is a beautiful montage sequence.

There are a few montage pages throughout the series, usually when a character is explaining history to some other characters. There, Lauffray can go into more experimental designs.  The montages spread out across and down the pages without panel borders or immediately obvious reading orders.  Just follow the lettering and let it take you through the art.

Long John Silver is introduced to Lady Vivian Hastings

His design for Long John Silver is notable, as well.  He has a broad, slightly chunky face, with a hunch at this shoulders and the thickest, bushiest eyebrows you’ve seen in comics in quite some time.

 

Recommended?

Yes.  In fact, I’d even say it’s a better read after you’re finished reading all four volumes.  At that point, you can re-read this book and be impressed at how much stuff is set up from the start, how the characters evolved, and just how solid both the art and writing stayed throughout the series.

This is a great book to start a series with.  If you don’t like this one, go ahead and skip the rest.  I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that it’s one of those stories that “gets better” a couple albums down the road.  This one has enough in it to legitimately entice a reader, I think. If you’re not impressed by what you have here, go ahead and skip the rest.  You’ll miss the pay-offs and the continuous twists and turns to the story, but you’ll only have yourself to blame.

This book is great as “set-up.”  It establishes the heck out of the major main characters, all the while giving the reader plenty of drama and a little dirty pirate action along the way.

“Long John Silver” is a cinch to make a Best of 2017 list for me.  (I go by the year I read a book, not the year it was released.)

 

Long John Silver v1 cover

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #61.)

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