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Louca v1: “Kickoff”

Writer: Bruno Dequier
Artist: Bruno Dequier
Colorist: Nadine Thomas and Bruno Dequier
Lettering: Calix Ltd.
Translator: Montana Kane
Published by: Dupuis/Europe Comics
Number of Pages: 79
Original Publication: 2013

You may have heard that soccer’s World Cup is happening right now.  Hey, what a funny coincidence — I just read a soccer comic! I actually read three, but let’s start with the first volume…

Page One, Panel One

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but what about its first panel?

Louca first panel with the Andre Franquin High School

Two things to notice here:  First, the obvious: He named the high school after Andre Franquin.  I wonder if it’s related to the school in “Dad” named after Peyo?

The school in 'Dad' is named after Smurfs creator, Peyo
From “Dad” volume 2, which I should review one of these days….

The other thing I see this early on is that the backgrounds look straight out of Sketch-Up.  I’m not 100% sure if that’s true or not.  But there’s something about the looks of those buildings that reminds me of every building I’ve ever seen created by the 3D application that so many comics artists use these days for background help.

It’s not a sin to use Sketch-Up by any means, but injecting a little extra personality would help cover that up. A bunch of perfect and squared off lines of the same line width makes buildings that look like stiff blueprints, not objects in space.

Oh, and a bonus thing to notice: The dreaded crossbar-I.

The Set-Up

Louca is a clumsy, luckless high school boy.  He has no luck with the girls.  He’s bad at his studies, and his plan to cheat on a test even fails miserably for him.  The gym teacher yells at him for being so useless.

He’s part Peter Parker, part blundering idiot.

Nathan calls Louca a loser

Then, one day, a teenage ghost in a soccer outfit named Nathan comes to his aid.  Only Louca can see him, but he wants to help Nathan.  He’s a bit full of himself, but he believes he can help Louca play soccer at a competitive level, by any means necessary.

Louca agrees, seeing this as his one way ticket out of Loserdom and into being one of the cool kids.

Thus begins the hijinks and, ultimately, the first big soccer game that has somewhat mixed results.

Narrative Trickery

The book is broken up into three acts.  In the third, we see Louca’s performance at the big soccer game from one point of view, then flip around to a more “correct” point of view.  It’s a mini-Rashomon, except there’s an objective truth here.  It’s a nice trick that builds a big moment up to something bigger and then twists it around just a bit to make it even more interesting.

Louca winds up as the star, but not quite for the reasons his little brother sees. You know it’s too good to be true, but the truth is even more surprising, which is a nice twist.

It’s the moment in the book where I thought Bruno Dequier had proven to me he’s more than just an animator of good characters.  He can tell a story in interesting ways.  He peaked at the end of the book. That’s a good way to go; it leaves a positive memory in the reader’s mind, and helps sell the second volume.

There’s another trick Dequier uses when Louca makes plans in his head.  We see what he’s thinking with a very simplified mini-comic drawn in super simple childlike colored pencils against a white background.

Louca makes plans in his mind in a childlike scrawl of colored pencils or crayons

Because both Louca and his plans tend to be so immature and so ridiculously over the top and optimistic, the style fits them.  (Even though it’s meant to be very loose and simplified, it’s still incredibly well animated.)

The Creator

Bruno Dequier is a native of France.  That somewhat surprised me, because his style reminds me more of what I’ve seen some Italian comic artists draw.  There’s definitely a manga influence, which we’ll get into next, but the style, itself, felt Italian to me. I pictured something along the lines of the artist of “Truth, Justin, and the American Way,” Giuseppe Ferrario.

It was also obvious that he has some kind of animation background. Sure enough, he’s worked for Universal on movies like “Despicable Me” and “The Lorax.”  I’m guessing he was doing character design or animation work there, and not layout or backgrounds.  Clearly, his strength is in his character drawings — both designs and their motions.

Looking back through the book now as I write this, I can see a little Disney influence in there, also. There are moments that remind me of Tom Bancroft’s comics work.

Louca runs back to the game

It’s good company to be in, all around.  I always love to see more animators drawing comics, because they can create movement on the page that so many pure comic artists miss.

There’s some unevenness with the pages where some look meticulous and well storyboarded, while others are attempts to just get the page done to get through to the next.  Backgrounds drop out entirely.  The camera stays incredibly close to the characters to help distract from that lack of backgrounds and to fill out the panels.  It’s a big difference from other French comedic books like “Dad,” for example, where the backgrounds are relentless and the action is mostly done at mid- to wide-angles.

“Louca” is a book that tells its story much more up close and personal.  One might argue that it brings the book closer to the reader, both literally and metaphorically.  I prefer seeing more of the whole story at a little bit of a distance.  Particularly with humor, the physicality of the characters — their body language — is so important

This is a book aimed at a younger audience, so perhaps simplifying the pages and using more closeups is something that appeals to that audience, and I’ll need to accept it.

Kids these days….

The Manga Influence?

Manga, right down to the speedlines and the lettering

This whole series reminds me of a manga book set-up.  It’s a sports comic, which are always popular in Japan. There’s plenty of speedlines to go around. There’s dialogue that doesn’t go in a balloon.  Panels are often a little closer up than they need to be, and often with characters at extremes, screaming in large word balloons.  Backgrounds are highly detailed in the establishing shot and then can disappear for pages. The co-lead of the series (Nathan the ghost) is a total lady’s man.

Louca is clumsy around soccer bowls

It feels a bit like a combination of all sorts of manga elements, but it’s tempered by the more traditional Franco-Belgian styles of storytelling. It’s not four panels to a page, and every other panel isn’t an extreme close-up. You don’t have those long moments to highlight something, but you do get times when Dequier’s animation style comes through and he uses a series of panels to show a specific movement.  It’s a variation on the same theme that the manga artists might use, to emphasize something by spending more time and page space on it.

Recommended?

Louca v1 cover by Bruno Dequier

Mostly, yes.  There’s a lot of great potential here.  Dequier’s character work is interesting, and his character designs are attractive.  I have some reservations over all the close-up shots, but that might be more of a personal preference than a weakness in the storytelling.

I want to read more before I turn this into a whole-hearted yes or no.  If the story keeps me interested and Dequier’s art maintains the standard of this book, I’ll champion it. If deadlines create more shortcuts or if the story is just tedious from the pain of having to watch a loser be a loser while his savior pervs out on the girls, then I’ll drop it quickly.

The series is up to five volumes so far, with a sixth on the way this fall.   The English translations are at volume 3 as I type this.  My review of “Louca” v2 is available now. I’ve also read volume 3. Minor spoiler alert: The book only gets better

— 2018.056 —

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3 Comments

  1. A but harsh in the crossbar ‘I’ I think. As far as I’m aware, that rule only exists in comics, but that ‘I’ is part of a picture rather than the lettering, so it should follow real world rules.

    1. I would agree if the font they used for the sign was a signage/display font. But that’s just a regular comic speech font doing double duty. If they had use Trajan, for example, then I’d be OK with it. With a dialogue font, though, it looks bad.