Comic review: The Colony by Nicolas Debon

The Colony – Nicolas Debon

When one man dreams alone, it is but a dream. When many dream together, it is the beginning of a new reality“.

It’s funny how a reading of a book can take on a whole different perspective in the light of the times we are living in, and even act as a metaphor for our own times that might be different from what the author intended. The events that take place in The Colony takes on a whole new meaning and hit home all the harder in the light of present circumstances when – over a hundred years since the time of the events that take place here – the world again very much in a state of uncertainty on a scale that no one in has seen in their lifetime.

The Colony deals with some real people and real-historical series of events in France (although repercussions were felt much wider in Europe) during an extraordinary period of upheaval following the industrial revolution. Increasingly disillusioned with how society was changing at the turn of the 20th century and how the ordinary working man was being exploited, in 1903 Fortuné Henry set out to prove that there is another way of living that doesn’t rely on those with authority and money to dictate how one must live, but to determine for himself what is truly important.

But not just for himself. Having purchased a plot of land in a meadow at the edge of the Ardennes, Henry hopes to prove that by fending for himself he will eventually win others over to his way of thinking. It’s not just self sufficiency or cutting himself off from a world that he has become increasingly dissatisfied with, but it’s a kind of benign belief in anarchy, in the strength of the individual and collective to reconstruct society from scratch the way it ought to be. He creates a small colony of lie-minded, hard-working people, L’Essai, the Communist Colony of Aiglemont.

Whether it’s coming through the present global pandemic crisis and its impact on the world economy, or whether it takes the next viral, meteorological or environmental crisis to push us, or whether it’s embarking on a new trading arrangement and forging meaningful connections with the world outside, the question of social revolution is seemingly one we all may well have to reconsider in our own times as individuals as well as a nation. It’s easy to apply a metaphorical quality to The Colony, but the questions it raises and the challenges that have to be met suddenly feel very real and important. Certainly now more than ever people are beginning to see that society is not built in their favour.

That point is made very clearly in Nicolas Debon’s beautifully illustrated graphic novel account of the creation of the colony of L’Essai. In Paris, other dropouts from society hear about the colony, word spreads of a place where people truly know the meaning of the word freedom, a place with no state, no money, no class distinctions; “No god, no master”. There’s a recognition among these silent revolutionaries that “Those who speak of reducing the general suffering are treated as criminals. Those who strive to maintain it are praised as honest citizens.” As well as covering the hardships and difficulties of setting up a colony, Debon’s book also takes in the wider anarchist activity in the world, painting – quite literally – an important overview of the period.

And indeed Debon’s painted artwork is just beautiful. It captures the period and sensibility of the subject well, using thick blocky brushstrokes, but with a remarkable amount of detail and some just stunning painterly compositions. Faces and characters look a little crude but are actually well defined and capable of showing a wide range of expression that hints at underlying character traits. There’s some fascinating historical context and photographs provided in an afterword by the author.

The Colony by Nicolas Debon is published in English in eBook format by Europe Comics.

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Updated: Apr 17, 2020

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Comic review: The Colony by Nicolas Debon | The Digital Fix