Blast 1: Dead Weight - Manu Larcenet
Blast 1: Dead Weight - Manu Larcenet *****
What is the Blast? Well, you're not going to get all the answers in this first volume of Manu Larcenet's series, even though it runs to some 200 pages, but Larcenet's scratchy expressionistic black-and-white artwork has many other attractions. It will take another 600 ages in three more volumes to get to the meaning of the strange life-changing event that Polza Mancini experiences, but what we do know fairly quickly is that it has led to him being held in police custody and investigated for what he did to Carol Oakley, a woman who is currently in an induced coma and on a ventilator in hospital. Polza's story has many unusual twists, absurdities and horrors to go through before we get any closer to understanding the nature of the Blast, and Larcenet's pacing and visual depictions of the journey make that a compellingly dark and intriguing story.
The police already know what Polza did to Carol Oakley, and Polza isn't denying it, but what the police commissioner wants to know is why. 38 year old Polza, an overweight writer of Russian origin who knows he has no particularly attractive qualities, is willing to supply them with the information they are looking for, but it's not that simple to relate. First Polza describes the situation that led up to the 'blast', his relationship with his father, his unsatisfying and self-hating life, and the attempted suicide that led to "a moment of suspension", a revelation and coming to understand one's meaning and purpose in life. Depicted in vividly coloured child-like drawings, Larcenet also latches onto the monumental image of one of the mystical Easter Island Moai statues as a means of imposing a visual representation of the impact the blast has on Polza, but it would also appear to have deeper significance for the direction Polza's life subsequently takes.
In this first volume of Blast, Polza hasn't yet found a way to get to his destination, he just knows that he has to completely abandon his old way of life. That first leads him to woods where he is invited to belong to a communities of social outcasts and outsiders, the Skin and Bones Republic, but Polza doesn't want to belong to any group and has a direction of his own to follow, even if it's not quite clear yet how he is going to get there. Nor is it clear just yet what he has done to Carol that leads to his arrest and interrogation, but the imagery, presence and force of the blast is still felt and re-experienced by Polza, putting him subsequently into a Psychiatric Ward, and it's clearly a force that is going to drive him beyond the boundaries of accepted social behaviour.
Larcenet's pacing and artwork is perfectly balanced the first volume of Blast. The story unfolds between Polza's interrogation in the present day, and the revelations he makes while he describes what has brought him to where he is. There's an appropriate balance between exposition in the dialogue and narration and the use of the artwork to capture a sense of things that can't be summed up as easily in words. This is not just related to the highly expressionistic and enigmatic use of images related to the experience of the 'blast', but also in beautiful large single page panels that show the town and countryside where this all takes place, oppressively dwarfed by vistas of menacing and mysterious skies, the clouds depicted in whirls and splashes of grey wash.
Certainly, the dark tones of the artwork, the scratchy lines and the exaggerated features of the characters captures the tone of the subject well, putting me in mind of some of surreal and disturbing grotesquerie of Nicolas de Crécy. It's quite different from the more colourful and cartoonish imagery you might have seen in Larcenet's hilarious 'Cosmonauts of the Future' books with Lewis Trondheim (also published by Europe Comics) or his work on Trondheim's 'Dungeon Parade' series, which is where I was first introduced to the artist. Blast however appears to be a work - a major work - that is closer to or at least a development of Larcenet's own style and sensibilities, and it's going to be interesting to see where he takes that in the subsequent chapters of the series.
Blast 1: Dead Weight by Manu Larcenet is published in eBook format by Europe Comics. It can be purchased directly from Europe Comics here. It is also available from Amazon, Comixology and Apple.
Amazon UK - Blast - Volume 1 - Dead Weight