COMIC REVIEW: Green Manor Vol. 2 (Cinebook Reviews #15)

Here we are again, ready for another foray into the world of Gallic comic books.  Old hands will be well aware by now that Cinebook are a British-based publisher of some of the finest French and Belgian comics, translating them into English for our fullest enjoyment.  (New hands may wish to check out the other 14 Cinebook Reviews to-date.  Plenty more coming, too.)  One of the aspects I’ve most enjoyed about producing these reviews is the sheer breadth of stories out there.  Far from being a stunted field filled with super-heroes and straining lady-costumes, the comic book (or graphic novel – or trade paperback – or whatever you want to call them) is as flexible a medium as cinema or literature.  Unflustered by the prevailing might of America’s DC or Marvel corporations, the European comics scene has confidently blazed trails for decades and experimented wildly to see just what can be achieved in terms of narrative, scope and visuals.  Today I’ll be looking at a fabulous anthology of audacious crime.   Come and join me at… Green Manor.

Imagine a Gentleman’s club; all candlelit Victoriana, fine furnishings, rustling newspapers and quiet conversation over brandy and cigars.  The Green Manor club is one of the most exclusive of these social circles, patronised by the cynical rich.  They take their ‘privilege’ literally, and are quite happy to fill their spare time committing some of the most outrageous criminal acts for pleasure, greed and intellectual stimulation.  Whilst not an overtly criminal organisation the walls of Green Manor have born witness to many such plots, as have the silently professional staff.  The psychiatrist, Dr Thorne, frames each collection of stories as he encounters the deranged ex-waiter, Thomas Below.  Initially with disbelief, then growing horror, he hears Below recount the things he has seen and heard in a life-time of service at Green Manor.  Should such things be true, should these tales become revealed to the wider world it would shake the Empire to its moral foundations.

This is a truly wonderful collection of deviance and dark delights.  The stories are often bitter, grimly humerous and extremely clever in their plotting.  Hats off to the creative team of Denis Bodart and Fabien Vehlmann for capturing not only the look of Victorian London, but the British sensibilities in terms of taste, manners, cynicism and humour.  Similar props to Luke Spear for a masterful translation.  The language used, its construction and idioms are so convincingly British that it’s hard to believe this is a product of continental Europe.  A stereotype can be an offensive smirch or a beloved symbol, depending on how it’s portrayed and by whom it is received.  As a lower middle-class Englishman it pleases my personal prejudices to see here that pretty much all rich people are evil, manipulative and murderous bastards who think they are better than everyone else.  It pleases me even more to see many of them undone by their own scheming for, although this is ostensibly a book about posh people, much of the satisfaction we gain as readers is at their expense.

The artwork is beautifully stylised without ever becoming cartoonish.  The architecture is gorgeous and the furnishings look comfortable and familiar without stumbling over an excess of detail.  The rooms of the club are darkened and expensive looking, but never become too claustrophobic.  As the stories are told we are whisked all over the place, from mansions to seedy alleyways, rooftops to parks.  The palette used is largely browns and greens, giving it a restrained and slightly murky tone.  It helps set the historical scene and the occasional flashes of reds, blues and yellow prevent it from getting too muddy and confusing.  The parade of faces are a treasure to behold, full of depth and character.  I would perhaps criticise the fact that although the tales take place over the course of decades, very little seems to change in terms of fashions and facial hair.  It is possibly a reflection on the conservative nature of the club itself, unaffected by the petty concerns of the outside world, but I think the artist missed a bit of a trick here.  It’s a small quibble for an otherwise immaculate reading experience, but they did take such pains to date each one. 

The stories are so short and the twists are so integral that to describe them individually would rob you of the pick and mix delight of reading them.  For the record though, my favourites in this volume are Voodoo Night, The Head of William Blake and Fight To The Finish.  Whilst originally released in three volumes, Cinebook have condensed their translations into two.  Assassins And Gentlemen is their reasonably priced first volume, reviewed here a while ago.  The more bargainous second volume combines The Inconvenience Of Being Dead and Murderous Fancies in a nice thick package.  Now, as a greedy boy I adore it when things come in jumbo sizes.  I’d kill to see all three vols collected into an Absolute style edition (complete with leather bindings, faux documents and do-it-yourself murder kits.)  Having said that, this is part of Cinebook’s Expresso collection with all the benefits and drawbacks of that particular drink.  It’s strong, it’s short and it really hits the spot – but knock back shot after shot and you’ll start to find the bitter taste overwhelming the other flavours.  My recommendation would be to take your time, savouring perhaps a story or two per night.  If you can do it by firelight with a glass of brandy in your hand, then all the better.

Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Dion Winton-Polak

You can hear me blathering about books on Scrolls, the podcast for literary geekdom here on the Geek Syndicate Network.
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