Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Azimut’

“At last I see the ghosts which have been with me all along spinning on an axis pointed straight up at the sun”

Wilfrid Lupano and Jean-Baptiste Andréae created Azimut, which has been translated by Marc Bourbon-Crook and lettered by Lauren Bowes. Titan Comics, through its Statix Press imprint, brings this to us mouth-breathing ‘Muricans!

Azimut is a collection of five albums created over seven years, so it’s nice we don’t have to wait to get the entire saga. It’s an odd book – the back says it’s for fans of Terry Gilliam and Lewis Carroll, and that’s about right. It’s not exactly surreal – the plot is fairly straightforward, and the main characters act perfectly within the parameters of “normal” – but does take place in a world populated by strange creatures, like the clockwork birds and the space-bending anaconda and the tortoise accountant. Even the ancillary people are strange – there’s the country entirely populated by short people who walk around on mannequin legs so they’re as tall as the other humans in the book, for instance. All of this doesn’t really distract from the narrative, and it gives Andréae cool things to draw, so that’s all right.

The story is about discovering the secret of eternal life, as the main character, a woman named Manie (that’s her in that physics-defying outfit on the cover of this collection), is searching for eternal life, and the other characters tend to react to her. We begin with some other characters, though – a young boy watches his father plummet to his death because he’s striving for eternal life, and then an explorer finds a beach he believes is the new world he’s looking for … only to find out he’s discovered his own country. In the first vignette, the boy grows up to be a scientist who once teamed up with Manie, while the explorer is lost because the North Pole has disappeared, and no compasses work anymore. Both of these characters are important, but only as they relate to Manie. She wanders around, looking for the secret, with her groups of “freaks” – those other things on the cover, which are her constant companions. All men fall in love with her, but she has no time for any of them. She makes marriage plans with a few potentates in the book, but something always happens to keep her from actually getting married. Meanwhile, the lack of “north” means trouble, as one country decides to rebel against their nominal overlords, leading to a war; Manie’s mother, a queen, is trying to kill her because she’s offended that Manie is trying to outlive her?; the explorer wakes up a god that may destroy the world; the painter who both loves and hates Manie is trying to get her to love him; and the “primordials” of the world have to decide if they want to save humanity from the awakened god. It’s a lot, in other words.

While it is an adventure, and an odd one at that, Lupano does slow down a few times to make some interesting points. The lack of “north” is an absurdist notion, and it leads to absurdity, but countries have gone to war over absurdities before, so the fact that the country does it here allows Lupano to make some subtle points about that. They then turn around and limit immigration to their country, which is something else Lupano examines – not too closely, but a bit – and which has relevance to our current world. Lupano also delves into the idea of living forever and what it might mean. There’s a terrific scene in which Manie has to pay for more life, and what she has to go through – which Lupano only suggests – is gut-wrenching. Lupano gives us one scene of what might happen if you lived forever, and it’s about what we would expect, but for the most part he simply shows us the toll it takes on everyone, from Manie to her mother to the scientist to the weird baron who lives in a floating castle. It’s not exactly subtle, but it is well done, and it makes the weirdness of the story more bittersweet.

Andréae is marvelous on this book, turning it into a visual feast. He has a nice cartoony style that fits the absurdist tone of the script, and he’s very detailed, so all the strange things are richly delineated and make this world feel more real than the descriptions of it can. He gives us vast cities, giant clockwork machines, a giant ship that doubles as a laboratory, the floating city that feels like a mausoleum, buildings carved out of sandstone, vast deserts and wintry wastes, and while everything is ornate, he manages to keep it on a human scale, so that the characters never seem overwhelmed by the marvels they’re walking through. His characters are wonderful – interesting and odd, with even the freakiest of the freaks showing their powerful humanity. Manie, of course, is gorgeous, and Andréae has fun making her incredibly curvaceous – you can believe every man loses his head over her – while showing on her face how painful some of her choices have been. He does wonderful work with the sight gags – the accountant tortoise, whose shell spits out ticker tape for him to read; the monks with their giant book of answers; the little people riding their mannequin legs – and he creates some creepy creatures, too, especially the thing that steals time and the thing that reminds Manie of her debt. Organic and clockwork parts on many creatures fit together perfectly, making them very believable. The world he creates is absurd, of course, which means that not only are the creatures absurd, but the clothing they wear is often so, as well, and he does an excellent job with that. It’s a dense book, and Andréae has to get the tone right or it won’t work, and he does it very well. It’s a terrific comic to look at.

Azimut is a weird, wild book, with a lot of heart at its center. If the characters are a bit ridiculous, that’s okay, because they’re meant to be, and the highlight the essential humanity of a few of the main characters, which makes their struggles more interesting. It’s gorgeous, too, which is nice. Give it a look!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


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