Monday, November 19, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Madwoman of the Sacred Heart

Alan Mangel, a professor of philosophy at La Sorbonne Univeristy,  is pretty much the Prince of his university.  His students treat him like a rockstar; the women want to sleep with him, the men want to be him, and his devoted followers all wear purple.  Too bad on his sixtieth birthday it all comes crashing down.

In one fell swoop, his wife leaves him for another man, and his students lose all respect for him.  However, one student continues to believe in Mangel, the beautiful Elisabeth, who also might be a little bit, or possibly a lot bit, crazy.  See, Elisabeth seems to think that she has received a vision from God that Mangel will impregnate her with the second coming of John the Baptist.

A vision that seems totally, and completely implausible right?

Well, that's how Mangel feels about the whole thing, except he soon finds himself experiencing a series of seemingly miraculous events that seem to prove otherwise.  Eventually, Mangel gives in and succumbs to the miraculous forces that seem to have taken over his life, and engages on a wild, spiritual journey that challenges his views of reality.  Along the way he meets an Arab man who claims to be Saint Joseph, and the daughter of a Colombian drug lord who might just be the Virgin Mary.

Madwoman of the Sacred Heart is definitely one wild ride of a comic.  This is a comic that starts out with a normal pace, builds speed as the narrative progresses, and by the end, features an almost break-neck pace as the events of the story get increasingly strange and surreal.

I picked this up because I've heard so many wonderful things about Moebius, the man behind the art in this story.  Moebius is quite possibly the most well respected artist in the comics medium.  I guess you could make an equally strong argument for Jack Kirby, but Moebius is definitely the epitome of the artist's artist for the comics medium.  For that reason, I'd been looking to check out some of his work.  Too bad much of his work is out of print, and the stuff that is in print tends to be on the pricey side.  This one cost over $25 for a softcover edition.  Lucky for me I got it during a sale event.

Anyway, even a quick flip through this comic will tell you that Moebius is a gifted artist, and provide plenty of evidence as to why he's so well respected.  The man excels in every aspect of illustration.  His characters bodies and movements come off as very natural and never look stiff.  Also, he can pack a lot of emotion into his facial expressions and body language.  This provides the reader with a lot of information about what the character is thinking or feeling, without that information having to be relayed in the text itself.  Not only that, but Moebius can draw some incredibly vivid, detailed and well rendered environments.  Put simply, each panel looks damn fine.  To cap it all off, Moebius also has a unique color palette that sets his work apart and lends it a bit of personal flair.   

Madwoman of the Sacred Heart is a story told in three parts, and as the story progresses, Moebius' art style changes.  Over the course of this story, his artwork shifts from a very life-like, realistic style, to a sort of middle ground between a realistic style and a cartoonish style, and finally to a style that is more akin to cartooning than illustrating.  Working in tandem with the shifting art style is a shifting page and panel structure.  What begins as a comic that features a few large panels per page, eventually works itself to a point where there are often ten or more panels all jumbled onto a page.  These busy pages, seem to match the busy pace of the story towards the end of this comic.  My feeling is that this art and panel shift was a deliberate move by the artist and writer, Alexandro Jodorowsky to make the art and story work together.

Despite some impressive artwork and a story that is well structured and quite interesting, I can't say that Madwoman of the Sacred Heart was my cup of tea.  It's a weird story.  Everyone in this comic seems at least little bit crazy, yet incredible things happen to them when they give in completely to their spiritual beliefs. The story walks a tightrope between miraculous and absurdity, and my inability to completely buy into this story probably deterred from my enjoyment a bit.  I also haven't had much experience with Euro-comics yet, and it may be a case of different styles across the water that I'm not yet accustomed to.  Either way, this was a comic that was technically very good, but not one that scored high in terms of personal enjoyment.

Grade: C+

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