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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Best of 2013: Cinebook's Empire of a Thousand Planets

Last year I had the pleasure of reading two books from Cinebook, publishers of English translations of Europe's finest comics, often called Bande Dessinée.  Bande Dessinée, or BD for short, means 'drawn strips'.  Comics are far more popular on the continent than in the UK, in fact Cinebook's website declares that 'one of every eight books sold in France is a comic book'.  I can only dream of such a situation in the UK!

Cinebook publish a wide range of European comics, from stuff created for kids to hardcore sci-fi, to fantasy, to romantic literature, to period drama and to crime.  You will find something for every taste in their catalogue.  All listings on their website give an age range as well, always helpful!

So over the next few days we will publish two short reviews of Valerian and Laureline: The Empire of a Thousand Planets and Lament of the Lost Moors: Siobhan.

Disclaimer: Cinebook kindly provided a free review copy of The Empire of a Thousand Planets for me when I bought Lament of the Lost Moors (review coming soon) at the November 2013 Thought Bubble comic convention.  However I can assure you that all views are my own, positive reviews cannot be bought!

Writer: P Christin
Artist: J. C. Meziere
Colour work: E. Tranle
Translator: Jerome Saincantin
Lettering and text layout: Imadjinn
Publisher: Cinebook

What's it about?
This is a sci-fi book about two space travellers, Valerian and Laureline, sent to explore a planet called Syrte to discover whether the Syrtians could threaten earth.  Syrte is a bit of a strange planet - it's the capital of an empire (hence the title of the book) and is a key trading point.  You can buy absolutely anything you want there.  The planet is ruled by an ancient dynasty but there seems to be a powerful religious sect with a lot of influence.  Our two heroes have to pass as locals and navigate Syrtian society to fully explore.  Of course they can't quite manage this and that's where the adventure begins.

What's good about it?
The jewel in the crown of this book is the attention to detail and imagination in the portrayal of Syrtian life.  Take these panels from the introductory pages of the book:

Don't they draw you in, fill you with a desire to learn more the planet and society that produces such wondrous things?

Throughout the book the world is enriched and built upon with layers and layers of detail.  It's fabulous. 

What's bad about it?
People used to modern comics may find this book a little surprising.  The visual story doesn't flow in the same way as in modern books, the panels are more like snapshots of movement.  There is a gap between the timing of each panel so your brain has to fill in the moment happening between each panel and it makes your brain slow down in order to fully take in the story.  For example:
The first panel shows our heroes just as the ice is cracking and they are about to fall through.  the next panel skips ahead a few seconds and they are now standing up, soaking wet.  What we don't see is the fall through the ice, the characters underwater and their struggle to get upright again.  The last panel has skipped forward again so the characters have turned around and are leaving the scene. 

The art does supply a big part of the story and is integral in providing information to the reader, so it doesn't read like an illustrated book, but it has a different pace to modern comics. 

 What's the art like?
The colours are entrancing.  Absolutely entrancing.  It's worth getting it for the richness of the colour palette.

The action shots are dramatic.  The detail in some pages is astounding, especially when you realise this was all done by hand with not a computer in sight:

There is this wonderful page proving the versatility of the artist, with a 60s style psychedelic strip followed by this claustrophobic, threatening strip:

Syrte is so beautifully rendered, it's a pleasure just to gaze at the book.

An interesting fact about lettering on translated books, direct from Cinebook themselves:

Usually, BD aren't hand-lettered and we can use the same font that was used in the original. If they are hand-lettered then our type-setter picks a font which fits the style of the story, trying to match the original as closely as possible.  Most of our series have fonts. I know Barracuda didn't, but I'm not sure about Lament (of the Lost Moors).

I mention this because the style of lettering has a big impact on the reading experience.  I asked Cinebook how it was done because I was interested in knowing how the original feel and style of the story was kept when working with a translation.

Other information
Price: £5.99
ISBN: 9781849180870
Buy Empire of a Thousand Planets here.  This is the second book in the Valerian series, 6 others are available from Cinebook here.
Interesting fact:  This book was first published in 1971.  The first Star Wars film came out in 1977 and close inspection of both properties shows more than a few similarities:

Check out our other reviews of Cinebook titles here.

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