The Pirate Family v1 cover detail by Fabrice Parme
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Pirate Family v1: “The Wreckers”

“Pirate Family” is a typical (“classic”?) family situation comedy series.

There’s the overweight, bumbling father who may mean well, but gets everything wrong. There’s the strong mother who holds everything together, and has a memorable and colorful hairdo. There are two kids: The boy is a younger brat. The girl is a teenager filled with hope for a better world and a more equal social order. Her father is also a source of embarrassment.

That’s the outline. If I asked 15 of you to name a television series that fits that description, I bet I’d get at least 10 different responses. “The Simpsons” comes to mind for me first, even if it misses Maggie on the kid count.

There’s countless minor variations on that formula. These kinds of formulas show up repeatedly, though, because they tend to work.

“Pirate Family” is another series set up with that formula. Picture the quaint family sit-com, but set on an island of pirates, where piracy is well-regulated and professional courtesy mostly extends across the island to all the ships.

Then Dad makes a bad decision and everything blows up in his face.

Credits for Ten Turtles

The Pirate Family v1 cover by Fabrice Parme
Writers: Aude Picault, Fabrice Parme
Artist: Fabrice Parme
Colorist:Veronique Dreher
Letterer: Cromatik, Ltd.
Translator: Jessie Aufiery
Published by: Dargaud/Europe Comics
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 2012

What’s Going On?

Pirate ship impounded for debts

This is the tale of Victor MacLimpet’s no good, very bad day. He lives on Pirate Island, a land ruled by a currency called “turtles,” and where everyone is a pirate, but everyone gets along. More or less. It’s a safe space for pirates of all stripes, at least.

MacLimpet’s ship has been impounded, though. He owes everyone too much money. He can’t bring himself to stand in line at the agency that hires out pirates for jobs, though. His old crew won’t spot him a drink at the bar anymore. And his family is beginning to lose faith in him.

What’s a pirate to do? Become a wrecker, of course! A wrecker is the lowest of the low — a hired gun who wrecks ships to take their bounties. Desperate times call for desperate measures!

It doesn’t end well. The ship he wrecks is home to a cargo hold filled with slaves. Pirate Island is all about freedom. He can’t allow this! That puts him in a bad position — how can he hide his wrecking moment of weakness, but still help these people?

It doesn’t go well.

What's life come to when an honest pirate can't find work?

It’s a bit of a slow burn, but the water heats up around Victor throughout the book, as his best of intentions get turned around on him, and the children have to show the adults what to do.

“Pirate Family” is an all-ages friendly, family comic. It’s a sit-com on paper. It reads almost like a pitch for a cartoon series, with a complete story told in one album that has three acts and the perfect structure and character designs for something the Cartoon Network or Netflix might want to produce. It’s safe and funny, with a great design and some funny moments.

The Art of Parme’s Pirates

Parme's character designs are varied.  Here's a line up.

Parme’s strong design skills from “Venezia” go even further here. He simplifies the characters even more and introduces a wider variety of shapes and silhouettes. His ink line is unwavering. While he does have thicker lines and thinner lines, he doesn’t vary those up in the same strokes, for the most part. Objects in the foreground will get thicker lines, and some lines will have a brushier look to them, almost like an unfinished brush stroke that looks more pencil-like.

In the end, everything is very consistent in this book. These characters are strongly designed, and Parme sticks to those model sheets.

While there are moments of detailed and skillfully-drawn backgrounds in the book, they do stay cartoonish for the most part in the book. Everything exists on angles. Everything looks slightly bent or warped. Parallel lines are discouraged. It’s a great, quirky look.

It’s a very imaginative and attractive book, with the kind of design skills you’d expect to come out of a movie studio producing an animated feature.

Yes, This is a Book With Slaves

What is slavery?  A pirate explains

The good news is, unlike so many other French cartoonists from the 1960s (and even the 1980s and some examples from the 1990s), the slaves drawn in this book aren’t awful caricatures that over-emphasize and lampoon their physical characteristics.

Mom leads a fight for the slaves to be freed.

The better news is that Picault and Parme handle the topic well. Their story makes no bones about it — slavery is bad and only bad people own slaves. It simplifies the issues and remains at a fairly high level. This is a book aimed at younger readers, so it’s a smart storytelling decision to keep the slavery implications simplified like that. It matches the point of view of the youngest character in the book, too.

There’s enough in the story to create strong motivations, and that’s what this book needs. It’s a solid story with a strong message, but not one that gets lost in it.

Pirates fight for freedom in their own home

Don’t get me wrong — given how polarized and extreme everything is in politics and the internet these days, I’m sure there could be complaints from all angles about it. I don’t see it, though. I’d have no problem with giving this book to my kid to read. It teaches all the right lessons without being preachy about it. In fact, it’s rather sweet, especially with the naivete of the younger characters involved in the story.

Last Minute Update – A Twist!

Guess what I just found?

Yup, this book is based on an animated series that started in 1999 in France. The series is available — in English! — on YouTube.

Parme is credited as a “Graphic Design” in the opening credits:

Fabrice Parme's credit on Pirate Family

Now it all makes more sense…

The comic book version looks better, though. I like Parme’s black line work in the backgrounds more than the painted look of the animated series. I understand why the animation goes that way to help keep the backgrounds from competing with the characters. Comics can handle that better, I guess.

Recommended?

It’s a bit on the lighter side. It doesn’t pack in quite as much humor as a book like “Venezia,” but it has a good message, solid art, and an entertaining story that is ultimately satisfying. It’s a good book to share with your child or niece/nephew. You might enjoy it more for the art style, but the story is still solid.

There is a second volume available that I’ll be trying soon, too. I’m curious to see if I might enjoy that one even more now that I’m more familiar with this world.

You can pick up the book digitally at the Amazon link above (yeah, it’s an affiliate link), Comixology, or Izneo.

Other Pirate Books of Interest

If you like pirates, be sure to check out some of my favorite Franco-Belgian albums with strong ship components:

The Campbells v1 cover
Long John Silver v1 cover
Esteban the Whaler volume 1 by Matthieu Bonhomme cover

What do YOU think? (First time commenters' posts may be held for moderation.)

2 Comments

  1. I’ve never heard of that show, probably because I overshoot the target audience of this by about 45 years.
    Were they trying to cash in on nostalgia by turning it into a BD?
    Before I saw the last part of your review, I was going to say that every BD, every comic these days is a teleplay storyboard waiting to happen, but it would seem this time it’s the other way around. Odd.
    In my view, attractiveness of pirates for kids was a generational things, like cowboys and indians for the generation before, for us raised with Treasure Island on TV and Burt Lancaster swashbuckling on cine-club. These days if you’re not a super-hero or a video game, what chance do you get ?

  2. Also, in the original French dub of the 1999 series, famed French actor Patrick Prejean voiced Victor MacLimpet the father of the Pirate Family.