The Adventures of Theodore Poussin v1 Captain Steene by Frank Le Gall Cover detail

Theodore Poussin, v1: “Captain Steene”

Let’s take a scenic boat ride around the Mediterranean and into the South Asian waters where things will go horribly awry.

Thankfully, Theodore Poussin is on the case!

Wait, no.  He isn’t.  This isn’t an Agatha Christie tale. This is a guy caught up in an adventure he kinda sorta wanted, but not like this….

Who Did What?

Writer: Frank Le Gall
Artist: Frank Le Gall
Colorist: Dominique Thomas and Robin Le Gall
Lettering: Cromatik Ltd.
Translator: Montana Kane
Published by: Dupuis/Europe Comics
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1987

 

The Romance of Travel

Theodore Poussin at his safe cushy desk job, filing paperwork for The Man.

Theodore is a paper-pushing desk clerk working for a shipping company in Dunkirk, France.  The year is 1927.  Seeing all the ships coming and going, he dreams of traveling the world on a boat.

The map of the trip Theodore Poussin is scheduled to take

Finally, he gets his chance, and his boss sends him on a long voyage from Dunkirk all the way around France and, eventually, to South Asia, including Singapore.  While his family — sister and mother, primarily — is hesitant about the trip, Theodore is wide-eyed and excited.

Here’s his chance to see the world, at last!

As a bonus, this also gave him the chance to find the grave of his Uncle, the great Captain Steene, who was presumed killed in World War I. He was a mythical figure, and inspired strong opinions in those who knew him.  Poussin gets to meet a person or two in this trip who knew his uncle, and it proves to be an eye-opening lesson for him.

While things start out smoothly in calm waters, clear skies, and light ship duties, things go horribly awry as they get further from home.  Poussin gets a couple days off to go to land once they get to Asia, where he can search for the site of his uncle’s last rest.

It’s not going to be that simple, though.  The search for his uncle quickly turns into the biggest and most dangerous adventure of Theodore’s life.  Before the book is over, Theodore will see smoke-filled card rooms, pirates, bars, and more.

 

Terry and the Pirates Meets The Marcinelle School

Theodore Poussin walks around an Asian market

While this book was originally created in the 1980s, it reflects a lot of the feelings that the classic adventure comic strips like “Terry and Pirates” might have given you. Or, as a comics fan, maybe it’s more reminiscent of Huge Pratt’s “Corto Maltese.”

These classic, well-drawn early in the century adventures Asia over land, sea, and air are hypnotic, in their own way.  From today’s point of view, they often resemble a much simpler view of the world from perhaps a simpler time.

There’s something romantic to the way that adventures across Asia were once seen as such a magical thing.

Today, an “adventure in Asia” means a digital nomad whose career involves sitting on the beach behind a laptop somewhere with a low cost of living while scoring big contracts from back home.

This book is… very different from that.

 

An Open Adventure Leading to — Something?

Theodore Poussin walks on the docks at night in Asia

But I like it.  I like the adventure that Poussin is starting on here.  It has a lot of room open ahead of it for all the paths it might go in. It does feel a bit unfocused and rambling at this point, but I’m sure it’s leading up to something.  Poussin is a naive young man in this book, lost in a strange land, easily conned by more streetwise folks, and a little too gullible.

Monsieur November follows Poussin from land to sea

Poussin is also being followed by the enigmatic Monsieur November, who shows up almost randomly to drop portents and vague hints and bits of poetry. He’s clearly dangerous, yet Le Gall plays him off with a lighter touch. He’s not directly harming Poussin, but you can see from the gleam in his eye that he enjoys playing the game of tormenting the poor traveller.

Poussin’s getting caught up in something with this book.  He hasn’t yet started to take control of anything. Other people guide his decisions.  I hope as the series progresses that he becomes a more active and a smarter participant in his own adventure.

There’s lot of great raw material here.  I just hope Le Gall molds it into something exciting.

There are 12 books in the series, overall, so we’ll see how long it takes…

 

Le Gall’s Not Quite Big Nose Art

Poussin celebrates his upcoming boat trip around Europe and Asia

Poussin celebrates his upcoming boat trip around Europe and Asia

Le Gall’s art style fits into the world of Spirou nicely, which is who originally serialized it.  Characters are “cartoony,” often with big noses, stray hairs flying off the tops of their heads, and forever-slightly-bent knees.  Oh, and their clothes have lots and lots of folds in them.  There is a definite Franquin vibe to parts of it.

More tellingly, the heads and hands are slightly larger than they should be.  It often gives the characters a bit of a puppet look.  I like that look a lot, though.  It makes them more expressive, and often imparts on the art a more energetic style.

It all feels right, and that includes the backgrounds with the messy tight Asian city streets, the tall grass in the open fields, and the rickety wooden docks where the pirate ships hold their boats.  He draws great environments that bring you as the reader into a scene.

Le Gall is also convincing in the way he draws all the uniforms and costumes throughout this book.  I’m sure there was a lot of research done on that part, because things look believable and consistent.

It reminds me a bit at times of the kind of work Sergio Aragones and Stan Sakai do.  It’s not quite as busy as Aragones’, but it creates an environment you can recognize while still keeping in the same cartoonish tone as the characters he draws.

 

“Simple” Color

The coloring from Dominique Thomas and Robin Le Gall is the perfect accompaniment to the art.  It is simple, often done without shadows and just a hint of gradient here and there.  Those solid colors might give the book a flatter or more comic strip-like look, but the color choices between foreground and background handle the same job just as well. Color pairings help keep the characters separated from their backgrounds.

There aren’t a lot of saturated, heavy colors in this book.  It feels intentionally light and down-to-earth.  The colors are often literally drawn from the environment, with lots of earth toned woods and spare basic flat walls whose only shadows come from a squiggle drawn into the corner to help close the eye around the story happening in the foreground.

This isn’t the busy, sculpted work like you see  a lot of these days, but this book is also 30 years old.  It’s not like they were using Photoshop for all the effects filters yet.

 

Lettering Choices

The lettering of Theodore Poussin by Cromatik Ltd

I’m very impressed with the font choice on this book.  It fits in with the overall art perfectly, and closely resembles the original French hand lettering.  Maintaining that feel in the art gives the book, overall, a better look.

It was only after looking over a French edition of the book that I started to see the areas in the computer lettering for this volume that looks a little stiff and mechanical.  Le Gall varies his word balloons and dialogue quite a lot, including sound great hand-drawn thick, blocky sound effect-style dialogue choices in the book.

Most of them — beyond the ones with simple question marks or exclamation points — are translated inside individual books already, but Le Gall’s style provided the guide for future translations and letterers.

It’s a great, organic look.  And I wanted to throw in a good word for the folks at Cromatik Ltd. for the good work they do on lots of books like this one. They use a great variety of fonts that come close to the original work, and all with fonts you don’t see in North American comics all the time.

 

Recommended?

The Adventures of Theodore Poussin v1 Captain Steene by Frank Le Gall Cover

Cautiously so.  I like the story, the character, and the art.  But this is only a part of the story, and not a complete one at that.  It’s basically the first act of the movie: drop the unsuspecting character off in the middle of a grand adventure, and then it suddenly ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.

A second volume just came out, with a third on the way next month.  So the story definitely continues.  I’ll be following it.  As events warrant, I’ll be able to judge if this is a series worth reading or not. Color me cautiously optimistic for now…

— 2018.089 —

 

Buy It Now

Buy this book on Amazon Click here to buy digital BD comics albums through Izneo.com

 

Bonus Panel

Frank Le Gall shows off some lighting skills.

I like the lighting in this panel a lot.  Look at how the light falls on the trees in the foreground.  It’s always on the house side of the trees, where the light is coming from.  It’s raining, so there’s no secondary moon source of light.  Judging by the color of the sky, I’d also guess it’s within an hour of sundown.

Still, Caniff would have drawn twice a many raindrops in this panel.  You just know it.

6 Comments

  • JC Lebourdais November 3, 2018 at 3:30 am

    For some reason I never opened a Theodore Poussin book before. As they say, so much to read, so little time. As you point out, it’s riding on the coattails of Corto and other more famous travel/adventure series like Bob Morane or Jeannette Pointu (both great if you’re looking for tips for future reviews). In France, it would definitely qualify as a sleeper, mostly unknown, yet it must have enough of a following that they put out so many volumes already.
    In any case your review made it sound worth checking out, if only because Caniff is one of my all-time favourites, so as soon as there’s a gap in my schedule I’ll grab one of those and I’ll be back here with some deeper thoughts.

    Reply
    • Augie November 5, 2018 at 12:30 am

      I read volume 2, which I’m sure I’ll be reviewing in the next week or so. I still like the art, but the story is starting to grate on me already. This was a book done in the 80s, but it still feels like it’s one of those books where you’re going to need to buy all 10 volumes to enjoy one story. Ugh…

      Reply
  • Montana Kane November 3, 2018 at 9:48 am

    There’s also a similar series about a mild-mannered clerk ending up in colonial Asia entitled BY THE NUMBERS, which I really enjoyed. It’s published by Humanoids. Could be an interesting compare / contrast review for you, Augie 🙂

    Reply
    • Augie November 5, 2018 at 12:26 am

      Thanks for the recommendation. I just flipped through the first volume and can see the similarities already, though the art runs a little more towards the ligne claire style. I know I’m the outlier, but I’m not a huge ligne claire fan. But you’re right — there’s a good 500 words’ worth of comparison built into reviewing that series at some point, too. Thanks again!

      Reply
  • iamfear7 November 4, 2018 at 7:06 pm

    I’ve never read one of those, but I flipped through the latest volume on the new releases shelf recently, and the pseudo-Franquin art you’re sampling here is really different than what I saw, which was much more realistic-looking (but still with somewhat cartoony features).

    Here’s an online preview of the last Poussin book to compare (hopefully the link won’t mess up the post)
    https://www.bdgest.com/preview-2399-BD-theodore-poussin-le-dernier-voyage-de-l-amok.html?_ga=2.116958022.1903951479.1541375700-172577047.1539149462

    Of couse when comparing early Gaston Lagaffe to the later stuff we can see Franquin had a similar evolution, as all artists do, but it always amuses me when it is so difficult to recognize it’s the same artist.

    Reply
    • Augie November 5, 2018 at 12:24 am

      Wow, yes, that is a big change. I don’t like it, but then I’m partial to that Franquin school of art. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s a gradual transition or one big change Le Gall makes in a specific volume. Even Albert Uderzo’s style shifted on “Asterix” a bunch over the years, but it still had that cartoony look to it. This is shifting over to a completely new one. Yikes

      Reply

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