With Jean-Claude Mezieres and Pierre Christin retired from producing more “Valerian” stories, the torch is now passed on to — well, whoever they like who might want to do a story. This “In the Style of” concept is a great way to continue creating new Valerian stories without worrying too much about upsetting long time fans by changing course or creating an entirely new reality. It gives a variety of creators a chance to do a book in their own way that adds something without taking anything away from the original series at all. It leaves room for reinterpretations, but can also be seen as part of the overall mythology.
Thus, we have this week’s release of “Shingouzlooz Inc.,” an album written by Wilfrid Lupano and drawn/colored by Mathieu Lauffray. If the artist’s name sounds familiar to you, it might be from his four part series available through Cinebook, “Long John Silver.” I’ve only reviewed the first album in that series, but the whole thing is an excellent read. The art there steals the show.
History repeats itself here, as Lauffray’s artwork is spectacular across every page. Seriously, I’d follow him now to whatever book he wants to draw next. Sign me up, sight unseen. I know it’ll be good.
Long time Valerian fans will enjoy seeing a few recurring characters from the series showing up here. New readers can grab onto the high concepts and treat this as a short story all its own. They might miss some of the little smiles Valerian fans will get from seeing Lauffray’s rendition of a couple old friends, but it’s not a deal breaker.
Let’s talk about the story first.
Huey, Dewey, and Louie Screw Things Up
“Shingouzlouz Inc.” deals with some science fiction high concepts, influenced by the kinds of futuristic things we think about these days. There’s robotics and artificial intelligence and quantum physics/mechanics all at work here. There’s also some trickery at work with corporations and the financial games computer systems can play to manipulate markets. And you get the evils of internet forums.
At the same time, you get the usual genre hand-waving things like what to do when you need to fix your time travel device with limited supplies. (Answer: You draw your character getting his hands dirty, throw wires and random futuristic boxes around him, and make him sweat. NOW you know he’s working hard at fixing something mechanical!)
Sticking to the tradition of the series, the major plot of the piece deals with a tricky piece of time travel that messes everything up. And that’s all the fault of the Shingouz, who return for this book because, well, everyone loves them. This time, they’ve accidentally gone too far and Valerian will have to help them, even if it gets him in bigger trouble with another third party who are side loaded t by other mechanics. But, hey, better to tick off some bad guys over here if it means saving all of humanity over there.
So, yeah, Lupano lays out some pretty grand stakes in this book. He puts Valerian in a bad situation, makes it worse, and then pays it off well.
Continuity and Plot Juggling
All of the characters feel right to me. I can’t complain there. I was ready to give Lupano plenty of rope on this one. The book is properly advertised as being a story “in the style of” the original, and not meant to be part of the original. I needn’t have worried.
The characters who have guest appearances feel right and necessary. Best of all, this book does actually fit into the general continuity of the series at a place that I liked the most. It should fit in somewhere around the first half of the series. It’s before Galaxity disappeared and Valerian became obsessed with finding it. It’s a one off book that stands on its own and doesn’t require a part two. It’s an isolated adventure filled with fun and lots of creative mischief.
If there’s one drawback of the book, it’s that Valerian and Laureline have separate adventures after the first half of the book. I like their chemistry. I want to see more of them together. Thankfully, they do come back together long before the end, so not much is lost…
For the sake of the story, though, it was necessary. Lupano is trying to juggle three or four stories at once and get them all to come together. That might have been trickier with everyone in the same place. It’s a necessary part of the plotting, but it doesn’t mean I can’t miss what else might have been…
There’s also a somewhat weak attempt to make it “relevant” and environmentally-conscious. I won’t get into spoilers, but it feels tacked on. I can see the point the author is trying to make. He spells it out pretty clearly, and it makes sense for plot purposes, but it doesn’t match up with the rest of the story. It’s a nice unexpected twist, but it feels grafted on. Lupano doesn’t seem too committed to it, either. It’s a plot point that goes away in a page or two and we don’t have to think about it again.
I don’t envy the job Lupano had of coming in after Christin and playing with these toys as an outsider. I think he does a good job, though, in balancing the feeling of the story and the characters in it without getting too devotional about it. This isn’t a photocopy of a great book. This uses all the elements, but sticks with a style that the author feels comfortable with. At least, that’s how it feels to me.
You get the best of both worlds: A story that feels right in the Valerian world, and a story that works well on its own in its own style. Couldn’t ask for more.
The Art of Lauffray
Lauffray’s work on this book is nothing short of stunning. He finds ways of pulling the reader in through his use of angles and layered compositions. It’s very cinematic, which feels appropriate this year.
Lauffray does a masterful job in building stunning panels by layering things at all depths. He’ll have the shadow-encumbered super large item in the extreme foreground, and then still draw a background and something at two or three other depth levels. Having that many layers pulls the reader in by making it look more like a three dimensional space.
He also portrays scale in interesting ways. Ships shrink in the scope of space. Characters look small next to immense structures they’re walking on. Characters are different shapes and masses. Everything plays nicely off everything else.
Panels are laid out so the direction of the action is obvious. Take a look at this panel, for instance, and you can see just at a glance where that ship careening down the hill is going. Lauffray shows a clear path in front of it. With the smoke kicking up behind it, your eye runs right into the panel and towards the sea along that path and the dock at its end.
Lauffray finds new places to put his “camera” and gives readers the feeling — always — that they’re right there in the midst of the action along with the characters.
On the coloring side, this dramatic panel gets my award for Best Use of Fades. This is the three dimensional look so many colorists are trying to achieve with color holds, working in combination with the way he overlaps things and keeps Valerian’s ship in the center, untouched. I’d make this my computer’s wallpaper, if I could just get the original art without that caption box in the middle. (I removed the words from it to prevent spoilers. If you fade the color out overall just a tad, the three-dimensional look works even better.)
The other interesting thing about Lauffray’s choices in this book are his interpretations of the characters. Mezieres always drew them in a relatively cartoonier style. That’s particularly true with the Shingouz. Lauffray’s style is much more naturalistic. It’s not super photorealistic, but it does move down the line closer to that direction. With Lauffray’s style, it’s important to think in a more three dimensional way, and one that incorporates more textures and shadows. The Shingouz, for example, look more wrinkly and round.
The colors achieve a lot of this look. If you look carefully, you’ll see that more of the line work is open than you might initially think. The pseudo-watercolored look to the book adds in a lot of the shadows and textures. It’s a collection of much lighter colors. They don’t compete with the art. They do lift it up by making every line clear and visible, with remarkably few color holds.
One North American comics note: When I look at Lauffray’s art in this book, I can’t help but think of what an amazing comic he would do with someone like Rick Remender. He’d fit in well with the class of artist that Remender likes to work with, from Sean Gordon Murphy to Jerome Opena.
Recommended Reading Mode
I don’t like Guided View. Comics should be read by the page. That’s the way they are created, and that’s how they should be consumed.
But I’ll give you an in-between stage for reading this book that might make it more enjoyable for you.
First, read it on the biggest computer monitor you own. Your iPad is not big enough. (Unless you have a 12.9″ iPad Pro. Tilt it on its side for this exercise.)
Then, zoom in on it a bit. Lauffray uses a grid format for his pages. It’s usually three or four tiers. Show two of those tiers per screen — it’s about half a page. You’ll see as you go how much you can fit and adjust accordingly.
Just let those images fill up the screen and wash over you.
Not only will you see more of the detail in the ink lines, but you’ll also be pulled more into the images. All of the tricks Lauffray uses to create three dimensional space will be multiplied in this mode. It works even better.
Yes! It’s a stunningly beautifully work. Enjoy the story, because it has a nice rhythm to it that carries you through the book. The sense of humor works. The “big idea” science fiction material works. And the art will suck you in.
When it comes time for a Top 10 list of 2017, I can’t imagine this book not landing a spot.
(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #70.)
Buy It Now
comiXology only offers the French edition of this book, weirdly enough. Amazon has it in English, which leads me to believe this is a mistake somewhere in the comiXology database….