Mermaid Project v1 cover detail by Fred Simon

Mermaid Project, Episode One

Writer: Leo and Corine Jamar
Artist: Fred Simon
Colorist: Jean-Luc Simon
Lettering: Design Amorandi
Translator: Jerome Saincantin
Published by: Dargaud/Cinbeook
Number of Pages: 54
Original Publication: 2012

I asked for this one to be translated into English eight months ago. Sometimes, the Genie does grant your wishes…

What Is the Mermaid Project?

In The Mermaid Project, Paris has some issues, and the Eiffel Tower is half in ruins

The script for “The Mermaid Project” by Leo and Corine Jamar is a post-apocalyptic police investigation story.  It centers on a young police inspector who’s fighting for respect in her department, is on a bit of a personal downswing, and then gets caught up in something much bigger than she ever could have imagined.

It starts with the wrong dead body in a coffin.  Well, first it starts with the death of a soccer player’s wife, which the powers that be want wrapped up quickly.  Our protagonist, Romane, is not so sure of that.

Our protagonist enters the scene of the crime

That opening investigation is a great self-contained introduction to the world.  Not only does Romane (pronounced “Roh-Mann”) get a chance to show what she’s capable of, but we also see how messed up Paris is.  The top of the Eiffel Tower is gone.  Horse-and-buggies and bicycles are just as important as cars.  The roads are in rough shape. There’s something wrong in this world, but we don’t get a full explanation of that initially, aside from some references to “The Great Crisis.”

Our protagonist had a bad night's sleep

The first page is a bit of a fake out.  It starts with Romane passed out, face down in bed, a liquor bottle next to her.  In the captions, she’s thinking about a missed opportunity with a cute guy from the night before.  I was beginning to think this was turning into an issue of “Jessica Jones.” While it’s true that her personal life isn’t great, this book isn’t about her struggled with the bottle or her previous life, or some crazy guy.  It’s a police procedural/thriller/family drama book in the end.

We meet Roman’s brother, travel across the ocean, find out what “The Mermaid Project” is, and dodge some bullets.  All in all, a fun time.  (I’m leaving out a lot.  Read the book; I’m not spoiling it.)

It is, indeed, To Be Continued.  There isn’t a full story in here, but there is a lot of story. This series is more of a novel, and you’re getting the first act with this book, even if it feels like two acts’ worth.  I’m impressed enough with what I’ve read so far to continue reading, so it must be doing something right.

 

Show, Don’t Tell

There are moments where exposition sucks the life out of a story.  In a police investigation story, I’m not sure that’s completely avoidable. And there is a LOT of talking heads panels in this book, but it doesn’t bother me so much.  The story is interesting and the visuals are great.

But then it’s time to explain the state of the world.  The racial interactions, at this point in the story, had already been shown on a couple of occasions.  Any reader paying attention would have also noticed the demographic make-up of the series.

That just leaves the reader looking for an explanation for why horses are so wanted and the roads and buildings look so run down in places.  The easiest thing to do there, of course, is to have one character explain it to another character who already knows it:

Political exposition in The Mermaid Project

So, to sum it up: white people are now the minority, the brown and black people treat whites with the same contempt they once felt, and that the white people ruined the world, caused global warming, kept the poor oppressed, and that’s why the world is so broken now.

Cinebook announced they were working on this book shortly after the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Agreement on global warming last year.  Not a coincidence.

So that’s the set-up.  By the time that particular bit of exposition happens, we’ve already seen an example of two of those hostilities between the races, so part of it is just over-explanation.  We already saw it, and then Leo and Jamar tell it — between two characters who already know it. That last part is probably the biggest issue I have with the book.

By the way, it happens a second time later in the book, to such an obvious degree that the second character cuts off the first and says, “I know all that.”

Sometimes, maybe an over-dramatic omniscient narrator needs to step in…

 

The Art Steals the Show

I’m not sure how to describe Fred Simon’s art. It has some elements of La Nouvelle Manga in it, but crossed with something much its opposite, like the style used in a typical Jean Van Hamme story in “XIII” or “Largo Winch.”  It feels almost like a comic strip artist’s work, but with greater depth and detail.

Simon doesn’t exactly caricature people.  They are drawn in proper proportions, unlike the larger hands and heads of a more Franquin-esque style.  But they are simplified down to a cartoonier style than the likes of William Vance.

Simon is fastidious about drawing backgrounds and keeping everything grounded in a place filled with details, but he also has a cartoony style to drawing faces, in particular, and even those background details.  He uses his ink lines to do things that many would just rely on the colors to convey. The little details that add subtle shadows and textures are great.

Mermaid Project has very spare shadows, as you can see in this image

In fact, the coloring is fairly flat.  The shadows are subtle and don’t work to sculpt a 3D model out of a 2D shape. I like the overall look very much.  It lets the art shine, and keeps all the parts of the drawing separated and legible.

Simon’s style actually reminds me a lot of Art Adams’ early work, the more I look at it. There’s something in those broken ink lines, the manga/anime influence, and the manic attention to the smaller details in bigger scenes, such as all the windows drawn on all the buildings in an establishing shot of a city.

His art mimics Art Adams’ when it comes to some of the lighting arrangements, like the dramatic uplighting at one point late in the issue:

Art Adams' dramatic uplighting shows up in The Mermaid Project

That’s a lighting scenario Adams loves.  (I removed the text from the balloon for spoiler purposes.)

Since Adams doesn’t draw too many interiors anymore, here’s your next best chance to enjoy that style.

As a runner up, I’d also compare his work to Guy Davis’ stuff.  There’s just fewer monsters in this book. I’m not sure what a Guy Davis dolphin would look like, or that I could make a better comparison.

 

One Quick Lettering Note

You know how I love to talk about lettering, right?

There’s a well known reason you avoid works with the “LI” combination in them.  The word “flick” is usually avoided in comics for just that reason.  Because, if misread, that’s a whole different solution to the problem in this panel:

Lettering issues with the word "flick"

If there’s one larger issue I caught throughout the book, though, it’s the number of times two different speakers’ word balloons collided together. When two balloons are attached, you naturally read them together like they’re both from the same person.

Word balloons merge together when two different people are talking. That's not good.

You don’t see the tail on the second balloon until after you’ve read both balloons.  That’s confusing.

I do, however, like the way the balloons knock out the panel borders.  I’ve always liked that technique.

 

Recommended?

Mermaid Project v1 cover by Fred Simon

Yes, though mostly for that opening part and the art, over all.  The story is just starting.  There are enough interesting things in the book to make me want to read more, but it’s hardly a complete story.  You’ll need to decide if you want to start down that road, also.  At least flip through it to see what you think about the art, especially if you’re an old school Art Adams fan.

— 2018.005 —

 

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