Comic Review: Noir - Łukasz Bogacz & Wojciech Stefaniec

Noir - Łukasz Bogacz & Wojciech Stefaniec

It's a familiar story: guy suspects his wife of cheating on him, hires a private detective, the PI provides photographic evidence and the guy decides to take matters into his own hands with a gun in his hand. Well, it's a familiar story for a noir anyway, so it's perfectly natural to expect something along those lines in a graphic novel called Noir. Written by Łukasz Bogacz and Wojciech Stefaniec, Noir inevitably has its own spin on how those events play out, and just as a noir cinema is in equal part defined by its style, so too Wojciech Stefaniec's art brings a unique dark character to the work.

Noir is all about situation and there's a few intriguing elements that give Bogacz & Stefaniec's graphic novel its distinctive flavour of almost grim inevitability. An opening scene on a shooting range not only puts guns in the picture from the start, but as Robert, Oskar and their father Norman discuss matters of wives and girlfriends, it's already suggested that it's going to be a close family affair. But there's more to that, and perhaps a little bit of knowing self-reference in the fact that Norman is a cop and Robert is a successful and celebrated writer of crime fiction.

And it's the writer Robert Boganiec who is going to narrate Noir, and this time it's a real-life story. Life is what drives Robert to write, and it not as escapism for his readers but an escape for himself. His books might go to dark places, but not as dark as Robert's life appears to himself. He's dissatisfied with his marriage, he has issues with his brother constantly borrowing money, and he despises his father's bland, ordinary life, blaming him for his mother leaving them. As far as his view of life goes, it's a dull plot, one that has persisted for generations, but the writer in Robert is determined that he is going to make something different out of all this material, and it's going to be his masterpiece.

It's one thing writing crime fiction and another doing it, and in reality it's a grim and messy business, certainly as far as Robert takes it in Noir. That's also how it's depicted in the book's heavily inked artwork by Wojciech Stefaniec. For an artist who can work extravagantly with colour and flights of imagination (Come Back to Me Again, 2015), Stefaniec shows in Noir that he can also bring a harsh detailed naturalism to figures and places, but also find a frenzied expressionism in the application of seemingly rapidly laid-down strokes of heavy black ink on stark white backgrounds.

In part the character of Noir almost dictates that the world be thrown in to harsh contrasts of black and white, but in Stefaniec's hands it's a much more versatile medium for expression than the hyper-stylised world of Frank Miller's Sin City. His use of the ink is as distinctive as Ted McKeever or Paul Pope in this medium but with a style that is at once bolder and more expressive, alert to the changes of mood, pacing and drama, but also reflective of Robert Bogniec's view of the world, one that sees the world in such terms as a writer of crime fiction.

Style and content are combined then to give Noir a character that is more than just a run through of a regular film noir plot and more than just an exercise in genre conventions, but an attempt to explore how that world view is coloured by our own experiences; in Robert's case a writer's growing dissatisfaction at restrictive lifestyles that pin us down or force us into playing familiar roles. Considering the effort that has gone into illustrating the detail and expression of the noir mindset, artwork that despite that flow of the ink is anything but slapdash, Noir draws the reader in and fairly races through its 122 pages with a plot and artwork that hits like a punch to the gut; unforgiving, unrelenting and uncompromisingly noir.

Noir by Łukasz Bogacz & Wojciech Stefaniec is published in eBook format by Europe Comics

Noir - Europe Comics

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