Vice Squad v1 by Zidrou and Jordi Lafebre cover detail

“Vice Squad” Book 1 by Zidrou and Jordi Lefebre

Writer: Zidrou
Artist: Jordi Lafebre
Colorist: Jordi Lafebre
Lettering: Calix Ltd.
Translator: Montana Kane
Published by: Dargaud/Europe Comics
Number of Pages: 67
Original Publication: 2014

 

Vice Squad: Prosecuting Sex Since the 1930s

Did you say you wanted to see the French version of Law & Order: SVU set in and around World War II, but with actual character development and more toplessness? Did you want it to be a comedy, where everyone is in on the joke, and the system perpetuates the system and does little more?

Welcome to “Vice Squad”.

Aime Louzeau, the new member of the Vice Squad

This series is about a detective, Aime Louzeau, who volunteers to move from the homicide department to the Vice Squad.  There’s no specific reason for that given in the book, but I have a feeling we’ll learn more in the next book.  Or maybe we’re meant to read between the lines, given all the traits we learn he has here.

What does the Vice Squad of the late 1930s entail in Paris?  It means you’re out looking for people having sex where and how they shouldn’t be.  Really, that’s about it.  It’s about prostitution and, uhm, more prostitution and other felonious acts that aren’t deemed proper by society at the time.

When you dig deeper, though, you discover what it’s really about.  It’s about power.  It’s about knowing things about important people in society and being able to use that later.  It’s about taking advantage of the situation for yourself.  As one officer puts it in the book, you can’t expect to ask the kid to guard the candy store without him eating a piece of chocolate here and there.

 

Naive Louzeau

Louzeau has quite the wandering eye, often ogling women's curves

Louzeau walks into this wide-eyed and naive, making him the perfect point of view character for the reader.  But more than just not knowing things specific to the new job yet, Louzeau turns out to be naive in many of the ways of the world.  He lives with his mother. He’s single and emotionally alone.  He’s a little on edge, and Zidrou and Lafebre delight in spending random panels catching his gaze wandering towards the curves of the women around him.

Did he ask for a transfer to the Vice Squad in the hopes of “maturing” in some way, of getting out into the world and seeing and doing what he never considered before?  I have to think that’s it, but it hasn’t been spelled out for us yet.

Louzeau’s first few weeks and months on the squad are an eye-opening experience for him. They hand him the book they keep of all the bad acts they can bust people for, and he’s shocked by what’s in there.

“People really do this?” he stammers.

Vice Squad v1 - Louzeau reads the house dictionary and is astonished

 

Story Structure

Zidrou’s script starts the story in Paris after the Germans had taken over in World War II.  British planes fly overhead, dropping bombs on the city, hoping to disrupt the Nazi occupation.  Under curfew and underground, everyone huddles and hopes that the next bomb won’t land near them. From there, we flash back to Louzeau’s first day on the job.

The main part of the book is all flashback, getting us introduced to the Squad and seeing how Louzeau adapts to his new co-workers.

Vice Inspector Introduction, during WWII bookend

Our introduction to Louzeau starts in a funny way, as he reveals himself to a Nazi soldier, who thought Louzeau was with his wife…

There is no main storyline in this first volume. There’s a lot going on, but it feels more like a “Day in the Life” kind of thing. We get lots of little stories over the course of the book.  It’s not like the plot is building up to Louzeau coming face-to-face with the man who’s responsible for destroying his life, or any of the usual melodrama.  This is about the people on the police force, and some idea of the people they deal with and how they deal with them.

The true story arc is how discovering all of this affects Louzeau, personally.

All of that is wrapped up inside a glimpse into the far-flung future of 1944, where Louzeau is waiting out a bombing run under the Parisian streets.  It’ll be interesting to see how Zidrou connects the two time periods before the story is through.

 

The Parisian Police Farce

Louzeau's predecessor left the force to marry a prostitute. It's that kind of place.

The police surrounding him are an odd bunch: the typical grizzled old veterans who have seen everything, are numb to it, and know how best to take advantage of the situations.  There’s a steep learning curve for Louzeau before he can fit in with some of the questionable characters he’s working with. The question is, will he resist temptation and fight it, join in and conform, or do something in-between?

The brilliant thing Zidrou does in this book is make the whole thing feel serious, yet slightly farcical at the same time. Zidrou plays with the readers’ expectations in spots to great comedic effect.  When the head of the department is in the room with the topless woman and starts to describe “two circles holding up the horizon” and their “beauty” and how “magnificent” they are, you’re not expecting to find him on the next panel talking about his bicycle.  (I wish I could show you those panels. They’re hilarious.  I try to keep this site PG-ish, as best I can, though.)

As for the crime situation in the city, everyone is in on the joke.  Nobody takes it too seriously.  There’s talk of the kind of hollow tickets the police issue to make things look official, while they’re really dealing in getting something for themselves and gathering information for later use in bigger matters.  The criminals are as much in on it as the police. They only ever act when they have to.

The whole system is bent out of shape, and everyone knows it.
 

 

The Family Life

I’ve only touched on Louzeau’s personal life a little bit, but it’s a big chunk of the book.

He lives with his mother and their live-in housekeeper, I guess she would be.  Dad is not there, but factors in in a big way in the second half of the book, both in Louzeau’s current life as well as in explaining his background.

There’s also a reference to a past romance of some sort, which I think is also hinted at in one other panel in the book that isn’t otherwise explained.

Mom has obviously gone through some sort of trauma in her life, which is mostly explained in this book.  She’s docile and calm and a little out of it, but can flip the switch pretty quickly.

It’s a combustible group. Something is bound to blow up on all of them, and I think the pieces are put into place in this book for that to happen in the next.

I’m expecting the concluding book in this series to pull a lot of things together.  There are way too many pieces floating around, unexplained.

 

The Art of Lafebre

Honestly, I tried this book just to buy time until the translation of “Les Beaux Étés” hits next year.  Lafebre’s art is exciting.  This is the first work of his I’ve read, but all of the preview pages and sketches on-line that I’ve seen have been excellent.  Thankfully, it turns out that his storytelling skills are great, as well.

His style reminds me of artists like Denis Bodart (“Green Manor”), Cyril Pedrosa (“Hearts At Sea“), Jose Luis Munuera (Pipeline favorite, “The Campbells“) and Pierre Alary (“Belladone”). It’s a stylistic animated look, with lithe hands that move like a dancer’s and faces that are animated and emotional.

To go along with that and just to make most American artists jealous, he has a great color sense.  That’s always been one of the draws of “Les Beaux Étés,” but it’s just as important here.  Lafebre colors this book himself (with some help from Anna Obon). There’s a strong color scheme for most pages, often with entire scenes being colored in shades of a single color, when appropriate.  Other times, he separates the characters from the backgrounds most clearly with the coloring.  Bright faces pop off darker colors, colors bounce with the light between objects, gradients aren’t necessary.

Lafebre adds patterns in the coloring for things like wallpapers and tablecloth designs. He adds occasional highlights or blurs when they make sense. They’re not there to show off or to compensate for deficiencies in the art.

I love the composition, the color, and the lighting in this panel, where Louzeau sits alone in his room, staring out the window towards us:

Jordi Lafebre lights this scene well with his colors. And his composition for this panel is brilliant.

 

Print Quality

I just hope these colors print as well as they look on the screen with a digital comic.  The wrong paper stock could absorb a lot of these colors and make the book look like mush. Is that just an American problem?  I bet the French have enough experience in this kind of thing to get that right.

In North America, we’re only getting the digital editions.  They’re the best way to get the best colors in comics, so why worry about it?

Why?  Because I have hope for the future that someday, this material will gain enough popularity that we’ll see it in print next.

My fingers will cramp up from crossing them for the next five years now…

 

Recommended?

Vice Squad v1 by Zidrou and Jordi Lafebre cover

Yes, so long as you’re in the “Mature Readers” category. It’s a wonderful period piece with characters that aren’t black and white.  Nobody’s perfect, and the situations force them into interesting decisions.

Lafebre’s art is magnificent, and I could watch him draw hands all day, alone.  Thankfully, he can draw everything else, too. Zidrou’s script is surprisingly complex, layering in pieces when you aren’t looking. I only picked up on some of the things while thinking about them for this review.

Sometimes, that’s the best part of writing a review.  It forces you to think about a book. Often, I see all new things this way.  Thankfully, in this case, it only makes me appreciate the book even more.

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #93.)

 

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