My palace of white, my crumbling fort.

*You did good Kevin. You did damned good. Take care with your new blog.

*Wh… what’s that? Could it be?! Why yes… it is! It’s my review of Kevin Huizenga’s excellent “Or Else” #2, now presented at Alan David Doane’s Comic Book Galaxy, with added links and pictures and everything! If you happened to miss this review, do be sure to catch up. “Or Else” is one of the good ones.

But there were other reviews too; I call them


Jimbo #3-4 (more fun with Gary Panter and the ill-fated Zongo Comics)

Seven Soldiers - Zatanna #1 (of 4)

Too much is never enough.

*I really hope the oncoming calamity of this evening’s festivities doesn’t reduce me to a croaking blob of sentient jelly. That would so harsh my blogging buzz.

*This is worth posting up here: one ‘Mr. Black’ provided me with a link in my “Zatannacomments section to this interesting archive of the 1970’s British horror mag “Misty”, the lead character of which bears a striking resemblance to Zatanna’s young protégé as seen in the new "Seven Soldiers" mini. Is Morrison grasping even beyond the yawning corridors of the forgotten DCU? Perhaps. So thank you, Mr. Black, wherever you came from. Barbelith, maybe? Welcome to everyone from Barbelith too, in case you’re following my newer posts!

The Tower (Cheval Noir #9-14)

I never hear about “Cheval Noir” anyplace these days, despite its place in comics history as Dark Horse’s other long-running anthology series, fifty issues from 1989-1994. It was published with assistance from NBM, and presented serialized versions of many notable European comics albums, along with some nice one-shots. Spot art was regularly provided by Geof Darrow and Rick Geary, and the cover art was always lovely: just looking at the six issues I’m tackling today provides me with images from Moebius, H.R. Giger, Charles Vess, Mike Mignola, and Paul Chadwick, among others. But today, over a decade after the title’s demise, “Cheval Noir” has a utility beyond pretty covers and historical interest: it’s a cheap, easy-to-find archive of comics that eventually got collected into small print-run trades and hardcovers, and are now tough to track. “Cheval Noir”, its sixty-four page issues plentiful and from a major publisher, stands as an accessible archive of some good comics.

One of the best I’ve seen out of these is “The Tower”, by Francois Schuiten and Benoit Peeters. Schuiten and Peeters are the talents behind the “Cities of the Fantastic” series (as it was dubbed in the US from the French “Les Cites Obscures”, leaving some English-speakers calling it "The Obscure Cities"), the latest installment of which is the two-part “The Invisible Frontier”, unfortunately the only books in the series currently in-print in the US in a collected edition. “The Tower” hails from 1987, serialized in issues #9-14 of “Cheval Noir”; an earlier “Cities of the Fantastic” book, 1985’s “Fever in Urbicand”, appeared in prior issues. The “Cities of the Fantastic” books all seem to focus on strange goings-on among amazing architecture, with the feel of a parable presiding over the action. I don’t know if every one of these books is as good as “The Tower” (only five of them have appeared in English and I've only read this one), but if they are then someone needs to get this stuff released fast. More info on the series can be found here.

The six chapters of “The Tower” follow Giovanni, an aging custodian of the semi-medieval titular structure who lives alone and spends every day of his life tending to the well-being of his decaying surroundings, which extend as far as the eye can see. He used to receive critical visits from an inspector to insure things are up to code, but he hasn’t seen him in a long time. Eventually, he decides to embark on a journey to see what the hell’s up with his inspection, which leads him to a strange city, filled with people who don’t seem to know any life outside of the tower itself (not that Giovanni can recall any either). It seems that the tower was built to preserve humanity in the face of an all-consuming war, and that the Pioneers (the creators of the structure), will know what to do in the future. But there is strange magic at work too.

Namely, the magic of comics. Schuiten’s art is a marvel in even the most placid scenes; his character designs are attractive and detailed, struck from a more illustrative style than average for a comic. Coupled with some amazing views of architecture and nature and weird technology, the total look resembles the magazine illustrations of Windsor McCay, joined with the decorative fancy of his “Little Nemo” style. But the impact of the art doesn’t stop there: it leaks into the story. You see, some folks in the town have gotten ahold of some very interesting artifacts: paintings. Art from the outside world. And there’s a magnificent power to them that nobody can quite explain. Well, nobody in the comic at least; we can explain - the outside art is in color, while everything else is in black and white. The impact of this is quite effective in the pages of the largely b&w “Cheval Noir” (they also ran the spot-color dotted “The Roach Killer” by Jacques Tardi and Benjamin Legrand in these same issues). But this isn’t merely a “Sin City” type use of color (though that can certainly prove interesting too); this color radiates. When character pass by the color they remain in black and white but subtle effects are added to them so it seems like the color of the paintings is reflecting off of their skin like a light source, warming them. Exposure to art literally heals the sick in this world, their bodies aching for hue, for richness, for escape from their rocky prison life, even if they don’t consciously know it.

I’d really hate to ruin the rest of the story, since there’s some nice surprises in store along with the philosophical musings on the place of the individual in a seemingly rotting world, themes touching on the relative value of security in a world of dangers, not to mention the patent allegory for religious belief. Needless to say, Giovanni embarks with a feisty young girl on an adventure to find the Pioneers at the tower’s summit, and things quickly get very… open to interpretation. Enough so that Schuiten and Peeters actually title the sixth and final chapter “Where We End in Such a Strange Way, That it is Better to Remain Silent”, so you can’t complain about lack of advance warning. It’s really something to see, though.

“The Tower” was apparently reprinted in collected form as late as 2002, but it seems very hard to find now. These issues of “Cheval Noir”, however, are quite easy to track down. You might even spot them in your local bargain box. Give it a look, as there’s many nice things to find.