Did you like “Valerian and Laureline”? Were you looking for something perhaps a bit more modern looking? Do you like breathtaking art and run-and-gun space opera mixed with politics and trade wars?
No, I’m not talking about “The Phantom Menace.”
This is “Orbital.” And it’s pretty awesome.
Colored Pencil Credits
Artist: Serge Pelle
Colorist: Serge Pelle
Translator: Jerome Saincantin
Published by: Dupuis/Cinebook
Number of Pages: 50
Original Publication: 2006
Humanity Reaches for the Stars
Welcome to the future, where Earth has reached the stars thanks to its inclusion in The Confederacy, a collection of hundreds of alien races that work together to keep the universe safe. It’s the United Nations in space. Or, depending on your point of view, it’s Babylon 5 in BD form. Or, maybe you’d rather make the Valerian reference to the City of a Thousand Planets/Alpha.
In this book’s case, the place is called Orbital, a sprawling city in space located through a breach in the space-time continuum.
No, it’s not “Valerian and Laureline.” I promise. Our two protagonists are diplomats, not time-hopping cops in love.
In this story, we follow an elite guard of agents called the IDO, the Interworld Diplomatic Office. Specifically, we meet two. The first is a human, Caleb Swany. In the prelude, we see him as a child, more excited by the wonders of outer space and aliens than anyone else alive. When we flash forward to him in adulthood, we see that same wide-eyed optimist who wants to believe in the mission of the IDO and preserve the peace.
Unfortunately, he has a lot of work ahead of him. He’s the first human in the IDO, and the general opinion of humanity in the organization is not terribly high. They were involved in The Sandjarr Wars not too far back that didn’t make humanity look too good. Humans darn near wiped the Sandjarr off the face of the universe.
And so, of course, Caleb is partnered with Agent Mezoke Izzua, a Sandjarr of indeterminate gender with the memorable visual of a solid black head and large red eyes.
For their first mission, they’re sent out to a moon colonized by humans who learned the lay of the land and found how to mine it for valuable elements used to power space flight. Unfortunately for them, the race that lives on the planet that technically owns the moon wants them out. They’re well within their rights, but the miners don’t like the idea and are ready to fight back.
Our two new IDO agents are sent out to the moon to try to talk the humans into peacefully leaving. The humans resist, play some games, get people killed, and pick a fight with the local creatures who have an appetite for people.
Nobody ever said mining or diplomacy was easy….
Scripting the Details
That’s the general plot, and I’m glossing over a bunch of stuff. In 46 pages of story, we learn a lot. There’s an opening scene introducing Caleb as a young boy that runs seven pages. We get histories of the IDO and Orbital. We see some of the resistance on the moon, and the dangers of mining on it. There’s some conflict amongst the humans about what the right thing to do is.
Runberg’s script gives the reader plenty to chew on. There’s a ton of world building in this book, and it’s all well appreciated. It’s fun to learn the lay of a new land.
The only down side is that there’s so much world building that the book does take a few pages to stop everything dead in its tracks in a couple cases to deliver a lecture to explain the world. It’s a good story, to be sure, but there is a complete stop to the forward progress to digest it in both cases.
And, this being a sci-fi book, there are a few new alien and race names you need to digest in a hurry to be able to follow the whole story. With a book like this, you want to set aside enough time so that you can read it all in one sitting. This book works best with everything fresh in your mind.
Also, this is the first of a two book story. If you can set aside a full hour to read both books in one sitting, all the better. It’s way too easy to let some of the more alien-sounding names slide away from your brain.
Having said all that, I do like the more action-oriented parts that happen in this book. This might not be a pulp adventure title, but it does mix in the action bits nicely between the more political bits. Runberg is watching his story closely to cover that comes true.
The Art of Serge Pelle
I can recommend this book to you on the strength of Pelle’s artwork alone. It’s that strongall the plot holes that might form.
There are a few smaller bits in this book that feel like they’re setting something up for later. We’ll see if. I should show you some sample panels here, drop the mic, and walk away.
But you know me better than that. I like to describe why this works so well.
He can draw people that have that half realistic/half cartoony combination you might see in a Tony Moore type of style, then combine it with an insanely detailed and realistic background, using coloring techniques that give everything a slightly grungy feeling, but also a classic sci-fi feel. It certainly helps him drawing aliens, where that slight cartoony style can help him draw slightly weird creatures without worrying about how “realistic” they look.
But then he turns it up into overdrive when he draws alien cityscapes, spaceships, and the rugged terrains of other worlds’ moons. Picture Francois Schuiten in space.
Colorwise, he keeps things in this book to a green and yellow color scheme. It helps to tie the book together, though there are moments when I wish there was more variation. The original art pages look much more blue than either the printed pages or the digital version. You can see some original art samples at ComicArtFans.com. Check out this page or this page, for two examples.
His color is where a lot of detail and texture comes into play. I don’t know for certain what tools he’s using. Maybe acrylics? There’s definitely some colored pencil line work going on in here and probably a white gel pen for the highlights in the background.
It’s not a slick Photoshop piece of work. You can feel the bumps on the original art page from the tools laying down their colors and the textures they leave behind. Every page of this book feels handmade in the best possible way.
Pelle packs a lot of panels per page and draws with a lot of detail, even if it’s just the dense straight downwards lines of the rain drops in the background. Nothing looks rushed. You’ll want to read this book in as large a format as you possibly can.
Thankfully, the story is strong enough that I think you’ll enjoy the book, overall, but Pelle’s art is what will bring you to this book in the first place. It’s unbelievably beautiful stuff. The level of detail and craftsmanship on every page is outstanding. It’s going to be fun looking at so much more of it over the next six volumes (and, hopefully in the future, beyond).
Cinebook is printing these stories at roughly the same size as they saw print in France. The pages are large — larger than “Largo Winch,” and the same size as “Asterix” and “Lucky Luke.” Thank goodness.
That’s the good news. I love Cinebook. They’re doing amazing work and have been at it for a long time. They’ve printed all of “Valerian and Laureline” and almost all of “Lucky Luke” for the first time in English. They have a wide variety of books for all ages, from the youngest to the most middle age-ish of us all.
But I do have to recommend reading this digitally over in print. The art leaps off the screen, but the print edition soaks in the colors and makes everything look darker, to one degree or another. It’s like watching TV at 4:3 again after spending years watching Blu-rays at 1080p at a proper 1.85:1 perspective. You don’t know what you’re missing until you see it, and then you’ll never want to go back.
On the other hand, if you’re a print purist, then go ahead and buy Cinebooks’ books. You’ll never know any better and you’ll still be happy. I want you to be happy.
A Note on the Lettering
As you might have noticed in the sample panels above, the lettering is small. I’m fine with that because it takes up less space and fits a lot in. Plus, I’m reading the book at full size.
The width of the individual letters is tiny, though. It’s legible, but you’ll definitely be paying slightly closer attention to it.
This might be a good time to recommend reading this on your iPad in landscape mode, so you can view half the page at a time and get the even bigger art and lettering.
Absolutely, without any doubt, if you like spaceship sci-fi with alien worlds and some political gamesmanship, “Orbital” is here for you. If you feel a void in your life with “Valerian and Laureline” completed, give this one a try. If you just want to see insanely good art with strong sci-fi designs, “Orbital” will make you happy.
And here’s a quick tease: This book is the first half of the first story, but delivers a lot of material for you. You won’t feel cheated that this is decompressed. While the story is satisfying, it’s also just the beginning. Runberg is setting lots of things up in this book that won’t pay off for another two, three, or even six volumes.
Coming Up in Volume 2: The action moves further into the mines, as true alliances are revealed and ships race to the rescue while trucks careen across the surface in heated battle. It’s an action-packed second half, but one with a lot of heart. You’ll see….
— 2018.060 —
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