Artist: Jose Manuel Robledo
Colorist: Jose Manuel Robledo
Lettering: Camille Gruenberg
Translator: Christi Clemons Hoffman
Published by: Dargaud/Europe Comics
Number of Pages: 51
Original Publication: 2011
“Ken Games” is a three part thriller series about three characters who are caught up in big lies. The first volume wastes no time in introducing them, showing their lies, and ratcheting up the tension. It is a great read.
It’s hard to review this type of book without spoilers, because it relies on its spoilers to hook you in. In fact, I’d say you shouldn’t even look at the covers for the next two volumes until after you’ve read this one. I look forward to eventually reviewing the second volume so I can discuss some of the spoilers from the first. I think that’s fair game…
But the rest of this review is spoiler free for everything after the first few pages that are available to read on-line as a preview.
If I can’t convince you that this is worth a read with this review, there is a trailer for the comic that gives away more of the story. As with movie trailers, the more you give away, the more people sometimes get excited for things. It’s your call.
The first volume opens on a boxer named Rock. He’s a big guy, but his style of play is boring the crowd. He also appears to be losing, until he sees the numbers in his mind. He compiles the stats on his opponent, finds his weakness, and exploits it. Backstage, after the match, he sorts things out by writing complex algebraic formulas on the back of a magazine.
With that, the story is off to a flying start, trading in that juxtaposition to remind you to never judge a book by its cover and get ready to not believe much else.
The boxer, Peter “Rock” Fermat, is the narrator for the album. Through him, we meet the other two major characters in the series. The first is Rock’s alumnus friend, TJ, whose collegiate path through math (probability, statistics, and the like) led him to a successful career as a banker.
In their initial meeting in this album, TJ brings his new girlfriend, Anne, with him. She’s cute, she’s charming, she’s a teacher, and she gets along with Rock well.
Our three main characters are, thus, quickly introduced and we’re off to the races.
It’s All Lies
All three of these characters are living lies, though. In one case, it’s a lie living inside another lie.
It’s fascinating to watch the way the author, Jose Robledo, structures the story to lay this all out. With the 48 pages he has available to him, he cuts back and forth at the right times in the story to show us who these characters are. When he starts to peel back the layers, the reasons are understandable, even if the situations are obviously untenable. You want to root for these people, but you’re afraid they’re only hurting themselves.
And then — well, the reader learns some things the characters don’t know. Trickily, one of the turning points of the book is a lie told to the reader. But not exactly. You, as the reader, filled in a gap in the wrong way. Robledo is devilishly good at this stuff.
The ‘Animated’ Art of “Ken Games”
Marcial Toledo handles the complete art in the series: pencils, inks, and colors. He works well with shapes. He maintains realistic and detailed environments, but the characters who occupy them have cartoonier faces on top of more realistic bodies. Unlike an artist like Van Hamme (“Largo Winch”), Toledo is not going for photo realism. He pushes his shapes a little more to create unique characters. The expressive faces that he gives his designs lets him tell more of the story with subtle glances.
The silhouettes of the three main characters in “Ken Games” are easily differentiated. Rock is a large muscular guy with an elongated chin and a shaved head of hair. Anne looks almost like a kewpie doll. She’s got small eyes where the color fills all the available area, smack dab in the center of her face, and hair pulled up high into a bun. It gives her a bit of a bobblehead doll look. TJ is as “normal” as they come, but even he has a slimmer body shape, with a recognizable hair style and matching dark eyebrows that help him create excellent expressions.
TJ’s body language is the most animated and confident, too. Rock acts a little bit like Mark Millar and Rafael Albuquerque’s “Huck”, sort of the gentle giant. He cuts an imposing figure, but he’s friendly and innocent.
This differentiated and lively approach to the characters extends to all the secondary characters, too, whether it’s Rock’s small trainer or TJ’s nemesis at work.
Of course, it’s also possible I’ve been lulled into a sense of complacency in American superhero comics where everyone looks alike. (We give an exception to Howard Chaykin, who draws the same lead character in every book he draws. We find that endearing for some reason.)
Toledano also has some manga influence in his art. It’s obvious during the boxing scenes with some of the more extreme angles and speed lines. And if you look in the pages of their follow-up book, “Tebori,” you’ll see it even more. Check out the motorcycle scene in the beginning of that series’ second volume for more examples of it. (Though the bigger story there is how he colors it. Hopefully, I can get to that someday…)
Here’s an example of that trick I mentioned at the top of the review, where Rock sees stats as he fights. Toledo pulls that off by superimposing the numbers over the correct parts of the opposing boxer’s body to show what he’s seeing. It’s a nice little trick. If this were a movie, you’d almost see the same special effects like with the IKEA catalog scene in “Fight Club.”
The Colors Fit the Art
Toledano does his own coloring, and it fits well with the art. It’s not overpowering. It’s as open as the art, not trying to fight for your attention, nor ever getting so “real” as to be distracting. He does a bit of modeling with the colors, but it’s very subtle work that often looks like colors being cut in with just a bit of a blur to the edges.
He limits his color palette per scene, too. Most have a dominant color, or a singular background color to work against. That helps with all the changing between scenes that happens in this story. It’s a strong visual cue that you’re looking at an entirely new location or scene when the color shifts so dramatically, particularly in the middle of a page.
A Note on the Lettering
The lettering in “Ken Games” is potentially the most divisive thing about it. I can argue for it in either direction.
On the good side, it’s a unique font with strong individual characteristics. It’s also the same font they used in the original French edition, from what I can tell. On the bad side, it’s very irregular, and almost looks like a child’s handwriting.
Letters are wiry and compact all at the same time. There’s not a consistent approach to the letterforms. Different letters might have different x-heights, for example, and sometimes letters appear to be drawn slanted in different directions, even when adjacent. Even though all the letters are capitals, some are still taller than others.
A lot of that is what gives the font its personality. I much prefer that to some stiff formal looking thing. But I could also understand it if it bothered a reader. It’s nothing so bad that it would distract you from the content, so don’t let that influence your reading decision.
Mature Readers Warnings
Yes, there is some language in “Ken Games”, and some frontal nudity and preludes to hanky panky (all of which happens off-panel).
Izneo rates the book at 16+. Comixology’s rating is 15+. Both ratings seem pretty fair to me. There’s nothing gratuitous or graphic going on here that would require anything higher.
I bought them all based on the strength of this first volume and have no regrets so far. This is also one of those books where you’ll want to reread it right away to see how everything fits together. You’ll see the hints starting at the first page, after the fact.
Even if the story ultimately fizzles out (which I doubt, but you never know), this first volume is a satisfying and interesting piece of work, beautifully drawn and colored.
Read the Rest
I have reviewed all four chapters of “Ken Games”. Here are where you can find the rest: