Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson

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Cross cultural space opera

Saturday morning took me to the local parcel depot to pick up a delivery from Later, listening to my latest batch of Yann Tiersen CDs, and reading a volume or two of bandes dessinées marypcb had brought back from her trip to Paris, I realised how poor the current range of English language comics are. Aside from a few works, like Bone or Finder, there's very little pushing the boundaries of what can be done with sequential art. Especially science fiction sequential art.

For good space opera comics I have to go to France, where the art of the planetary romance is not lost. Here we get the great sweep of stories set on new worlds, where ecological fables cast mankind's many foibles in the actinic glare of the artist's palette. It's here we see hubris, and its inevitable fall - it's the stuff of greek tragedy written on an epic, star-spanning scale. It's the European story written on the stars. We know empires fall and fail, we've seen it in the layers of ruins under our cities, in our thousands of years of history and story.

I could talk about Léo's Aldebaran or Betelgeuse, with their stories of colonisation attempts on worlds that reject man, but instead I'm going to talk about my favourite BD: Aquablue.

Cailleteau's Aquablue riffs on Frank Herbert, Alan Dean Foster and Robert Heinlein. It's the point where the ecological myth of Dune meets the planetary romance of Flinx's Humanx space and the realpolitik of Citizen of the Galaxy - giving birth to a cycle of graphical stories that engage the senses, leaving us wanting more of Nao's story.

The sole survivor of a spacecraft's doom, Nao is brought up on the waterworld of Aquablue by a robot guardian and the planet's humanoid amphibian natives. When a human industrial complex discovers Aquablue, the adult Nao must both recover his inheritance and save his adopted home. The first cycle of 5 volumes tells this story, which stretches across the ocean of space to link the seas of Earth with oceans of Aquablue. It's a gripping tale that pits fishing spears against hi-tech weaponry, industrial greed against harmony. Two more series have followed (shorter works at two volumes apiece), which continue the ecological theme but expand Nao's horizons to the stars.

This is excellent stuff, and demands a wider audience beyond the francophone. I understand that Dark Horse published translations of the first two volumes, but as always the yearly (or often two yearly!) production cycle of BD as 70 page fully painted hard cover volumes got in the way of things, and the translations ceased. But with "integrales" of the first two cycles now available, perhaps it is time for another attempt at introducing the rest of the world to one of the best pieces of SF graphic art I have ever seen...

One vision I've had, inspired by Luc Besson's attempt to film BD in the shape of The Fifth Element (a successful attempt, but one that needed an understanding of the grammar of BD to fully appreciate), is Aquablue as film. I can see it, projected on the minds eye, filmed by Jeunet, with a score by Yann Tiersen. I'd commision it myself if I had the millions of dollars it would need...

[note: some links to French sites have been put through the beta Google translation service - which does sort of work, after a fashion...]

[update: the best French language Aquablue site I've found is here]
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