The Czech Coup - Fromental & Hyman

I'm not sure whether it would be an advantage or a disadvantage to have seen Carol Reed's 1949 thriller The Third Man before reading Jean-Luc Fromental and Miles Hyman's The Czech Coup, as the graphic novel is very much based around Graham Greene's writing of the film. It's hard to imagine any circumstance where lack of familiarity with one of the greatest films of post-WWII, pre-Cold War espionage and morality could be seen as an advantage, but familiarity with Carol Reed's masterpiece does automatically put The Czech Coup at the disadvantage of being compared to a work that it can never match. While it might be no match as a thriller, there is nonetheless some interest in exploring or imagining what might have inspired the work and might been going on in the background to its creation.

Graham Greene, as well as being one of Britain's greatest writers known for his spy and war thrillers as well as for his more personal literary dramas, was indeed involved with British Intelligence as a young man. The idea of Greene also continuing to be involved in spying, and being associated in particularly with some of the most notorious Cold War spies later revealed as Russian agents, has also been a matter of speculation over the years. The Czech Coup finds it interesting then to hone in on a critical work by Graham Greene that is very much set in those crucial post-war years, when the lines and sectors that divided the war-torn Vienna match the divisions and allegiances that were forming in times of somewhat murky morality.

In The Czech Coup, Greene, frequently referred to as 'G.', is accompanied by an intelligence agent, Elizabeth Montagu to Vienna. Greene is in Vienna looking for ideas, inspiration and local colour for a film he is writing for Alexander Korda, to be directed by Carol Reed. Montagu is there to guide G. through the complex bureaucracy and dangerous post-war climate of the devastated city and introduce him to people who might be able to provide him with ideas for the film. She quickly notes that Greene has attracted the attention of photographers and the American CIA, but suspects that Greene has another agenda of his own that he is working secretively on, a mission that also takes him to Prague, which is already becoming enveloped by Russian Iron Curtain.

Fromental's script for The Czech Coup relies very much on The Third Man for many of its characters and incidents, but it does well to make them feel like real experiences and not just a pastiche of the film. Several familiar characters make appearances, the proprietor of a dark seedy nightclub, a young woman looking to obtain a passport that will help her escape from being claimed by the Russian sector; and then there are the famous locations and scenes; a shadowy figure on a doorstep, a chase through dark, slickly wet cobblestoned streets, a car death on the streets, a visit to Vienna's underground sewer system and even a visit to the wheel in the Prater amusement park. One assumes that Greene researched such locations, so why not assume, considering his own background in Intelligence, that he was also involved in the network of underground espionage and black market activity rife in the city that he writes about as well?

The story holds together well with Greene as the protagonist, a Holly Martins and a Harry Lime combined, but there's less for Elizabeth Montagu to do other than follow him around, speculate and, well, evidently take her clothes off now and again. American artist Miles Hyman's artwork doesn't have the same dark, nightmarish quality as the photography of The Third Man, but the green/browns of the winter dullness and falling snow conjuring up another alternative and equally visual representation of the moral grey-area of life and death amidst the rubble of post-war Vienna. The facial expressions are not strong, but the characters are well-defined, and the storytelling fluidity of the artwork matches the easy flow and intrigue of the storyline.

Published as an eBook by Europe Comics, The Czech Coup looks terrific in the electronic PDF format file that I viewed. The colour reproduction is superb, the lovely clear-line artwork has a wonderful clarity. Being able to view and read a whole page at a time is always problematic on a small hand-held device, but on a 9" tablet in landscape mode, viewing a line of panels at a time, it fits well and is able to be read easily.

The Czech Coup by Jean-Luc Fromental and Miles Hyman is published in eBook format by Europe Comics on 14th February 2018. Europe Comics is a joint digital initiative run by 13 European comics industry players from 8 European countries. Its main purpose is the creation of a pan-European catalog of award-winning graphic novels from across the continent, published digitally in English and available through major retailers and library networks. Europe Comics also works towards the promotion of European authors and the creation of a European comics online directory, meant for both comics readers and professionals.

The Czech Coup can be purchased directly from Europe Comics here.  It will also be available on Amazon, Comixology and Apple.

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