The Reprieve v1 cover detail by Jean-Paul Gibrat

“The Reprieve” v1, a Voyeuristic WWII Tale by Jean-Pierre Gibrat

A Quick History Lesson

It might help to know a little bit of French history from World War II before reading this book.

The French fought with the Allies, but got overrun by the Nazis.  The stories of the Nazis marching through Paris come from this time, obviously.

There was some resistance to the Germans in the country in the form of The Resistance, fighting back in covert ways.

This story is set in 1943, so it’s still a few months before the landing at Normandy, after which the Allies would make it across France as fast as they did thanks, in part, to the Resistance.

That’s probably all you need to know.

 

The Set-Up

Town Square in The Reprieve looks like the small town in Beauty and the Beast

“The Reprieve” is set in a small French town that looks a lot like the village that Belle lives in from “Beauty and the Beast.”  (The animated one.)  It’s not actively occupied by the Germans.

Enter Julien, a young man on a train set to go off to war for France.  He has cold feet, and literally jumps off the train when nobody’s looking.  He makes his way to his aunt’s house in the small town, where he plans to hide until the war ends.

When he first arrives, he’s a bit skittish, but is also a bit smug and intolerable, to be honest.  I mean, he just bailed on all his fellow soldiers to go hide. Look at the look on his face here:

The Reprieve, the soldier runs away from the military

“I exempted myself.”

In the course of the book, he comes to learn a bit of the price he’s going to pay for this, thankfully, in the form of his isolation and more.

The Ultimate Voyeur

Julien takes up living in the apartment of his old high school English teacher, who abandoned the apartment when he was arrested for suspicion of being a communist.

The apartment sits high above the town, but right off the circle in the center of the town. He can see lots of interesting things from there, and does. He spends his days spying on the town, learning what its inhabitants are up to.

Julien's new apartment is as good as a prison, just with a better view.

Julien’s new apartment is as good as a prison, just with a better view.

He sees the good, the bad, and the ugly, including one awful visit from the Nazis, the Resistance’s repeated quiet visits to town, and the life choices of Cecile, an old flame of Julien’s.  When two French soldiers return to town after being released by their Nazi captors, Julien can’t help but think one is making the moves on Cecile, and it’s distracting to him.

But there’s nothing he can do about it without revealing himself to be the deserter he is.

Suddenly, his voyeurism takes a turn into suspicion and heartbreak.  His aloof ivory tower point of view gets much closer to the situation.

It’s a fascinating turn in the book when this starts to happen.  It makes Julien a weaker man and a more conflicted person. There’s nothing he can do about this, because nobody can know he’s living up there in the tower.  He has some hard decisions to make, ones which will change the course of his life — in the second volume of the story…

Pacing

Julien just staring out the window, as he does every day

The book, itself, is rather slow. It takes measured paces in its storytelling.  We see the town through Julien’s eyes, deliberately, and often not in the most dramatic of times.  Some people are more sympathetic than others, but there’s not too much terribly exciting going on here.

As a reader, you’re getting a glimpse in a town during a specific period of its life.  You are not getting a thriller, where the voyeur is witnessing crime that forces him to reveal himself.  You’re not seeing matters of life and death.  You’re not worried, really, that he’s going to get caught.  His bases seem pretty covered. There’s no ticking time bomb in the book to force people to act.

Until there is.  A change in his living arrangements at the end of this book means that he has to scramble in new ways to survive. It’s a big wake-up call.

But then it’s done.  The second and last part of the story is available now also through comiXology.

 

The Art of Gibrat

Gibrat’s art carries the book when the story might seem slow. He paints the entire book, evoking a period piece feel with lots of costuming and small details from the era on display to help sell the piece.  And since so much of this book is about one man’s view of the world, getting all those little details right is key.

Two things Gibrat is particularly good at is composition and lighting.  Take a look at this panel, from the center of the village at night, when Julien and his aunt are passing through.

Gibrat's color and composition skills show in this panel from the center of town

I love the way Gibrat pulls you into the scene by including things very close up on the outer edges and then leading your eyes into the center of the panel with the buildings on either end heading that way.  The water fountain’s edge along the right helps push your eye away from the right side of the panel, and just above it and to the left where the characters are speaking.

He also uses color and lighting well. This is a night scene, so he uses a cool blue color to represent that.  Past that, he’s very careful with the placement of the shadows. He’s not using solid blacks here.  Rather, he’s using darker shades of blue to light the path the eye should take to the characters. Everything along the outer edges of this panel is darker, with lighter colors happening where the moonlight is hitting.

The only thing that soils the art is the crossbar-I in the lettering—

Nah, you don’t want to hear about that again, do you?  Trust me, it’s there.  I ought to start including a graphic at the end of each review to congratulate the books that get it right. Sadly, I wouldn’t need to use it too many times…

 

Recommended?

The Reprieve v1 by Jean-Pierre Gibrat

If you’re a history buff, you might enjoy this one.  If you’re a Hitchcock fan, you might want to see a different take on “Rear Window.”  The art and its attention to detail is captivating, but the slow story might turn some people away.

I’m also interested in reading the second part soon to see if that completes the story in such a way that reading the first is (a) worth it or (b) has a new light shining on it.  When I do, I’ll come back for another review.

One last note: Gibrat was a featured artist in Christie’s Franco-Belgian auction last fall.  See more of his images in my review of that.

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #26.)

 

 

9 Comments

  • JC Lebourdais March 1, 2017 at 6:49 am

    Sad to say, Gibrat is the epitome of the problem with a good chunk of French BD of the past decade or two.
    Pretty pictures but very little substance, despite seemingly ‘edgy’ subjects and boobs aplenty.
    And Deeeeeeeecooooooooompreeeeeeessioooooooooooooooon. Can’t tell a satisfying story in one volume any more. Especially if sales are decent, publisher’s going to drag this over 5 or 6 or 12 volumes, 46 pages each. That’s overkill.
    Consequence; we get lower and lower print runs, market flooded with titles, creators having a hard time making ends meet, circle of life. Sounds familiar?

    Reply
  • Augie March 2, 2017 at 12:14 am

    The original art sells for enough to make it worth it for him. 😉

    I have to check, but IDW just published a printed edition of one of these books. I think it’s the story that follows this two-parter, judging by the characters I see in its promo materials. (And that possible spoiler doesn’t hurt this story on me, because I’m a mature person by now. heh)

    But, yeah, I see the parallel you’re drawing there. I don’t mind a slower story here and there. I haven’t read enough modern works yet to see the pattern. I suppose it’ll get annoying eventually. For now, I’ll let my naivety guide me to enjoying it.

    Reply
  • JC Lebourdais March 2, 2017 at 2:16 am

    By itself it might hold for a bit indeed, the problem is that years ago we had the opportunity to read books with a similar mastery of art and pacing but with actual depth. I am thinking for example of Corto Maltese from the genius Hugo Pratt. So yes Gibrat suffers by comparison. Different generation, different levels of literacy I guess.

    Reply
  • augiedb March 2, 2017 at 9:23 am

    I need to get the new re-issues of Corto Maltese here in the States. I got burnt by the last awful reprinting of them (where they cut stuff out), and didn’t want to get burned again. It sounds like the new reprints are done right, so I should give it a try.

    But that’ll have to wait until after I try some of the new Mickey Mouse stuff from Cosey, Trondheim, et. al.

    Reply
  • JC Lebourdais March 3, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Corto Maltese is better appreciated in the original B&W, like Casterman did when they produced the first printing of the French version in the 70’s, big TPBs of about 150 pages each. who is the US publisher?
    so much to read, so little time 😉

    Reply
  • Pierre Lebeaupin April 14, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    Well, actually…

    Wait, that came out wrong. Let me restart.

    I don’t know how it is translated in English, but when I read it what the hero “exempted himself” from was the STO, or Service du Travail Obligatoire (mandatory work service): a program where every young frenchman had to go and work in a factory in Germany to support the German war effort. He was not drafted (as far as I know, while there were French volunteers brigades who fought against the USSR alongside the Germans, there was no mandatory draft in France of troops to support Germany).

    Reply
    • Augie April 16, 2017 at 12:06 am

      It’s very possible I’m missing some nuance of the story, particularly in the French history part. I just reread the pages now. He’s definitely hiding so he doesn’t get sent to the salt mines. He definitely snuck out by jumping off a train when they weren’t looking. So maybe he volunteered, then changed his mind and knew he’d get in trouble. C’est possible. Merci!

      Reply
      • Pierre Lebeaupin April 19, 2017 at 4:47 pm

        Checked the copy at the works council library where I work (yes, it rocks), and I better understand your mistake, because it is not said in so many words. The most telling allusion is at page 11, when the policemen come to see his aunt: one says “il était requis pour le service du travail en Allemagne” (“he was required for the work service in Germany”), which combined with the year cannot be anything other than the mandatory work service (STO).

        And yes, for whatever reason he initially goes with it before taking advantage of the train trip to bail out. Doesn’t matter either way, but reminds me of my grandfather, who (like many others) was surrounded and had to surrender before being able to fire a single shot during the may-june ’40 German offensive, and was made prisoner, but he took advantage of a bridge crossing to jump out of the truck he was kept in, and he was not caught back.

        Reply
  • JC LEBOURDAIS April 16, 2017 at 7:58 am

    Indeed defaulting on mandatory STO at the time would qualify for Nazi prison camp. Or worse. My grandfather was drafted that way.

    Reply

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