photo & text by nacrowe
PEPLUM (NEW YORK REVIEW COMICS, 2016) by FRENCH comic book author BLUTCH (CHRISTIAN HINCKER) is an INTIMATE tour-de-force that showcases the contextual and NARRATIVE potential of EMOTIVE illustrations within GRAPHIC NOVELS. BLUTCH also makes use of INTERTEXTUAL ALLEGORY ELEMENTS from ANCIENT GRECO-ROMAN MYTHOLOGY, the new testament and the works of much later prominent english authors. these LITERARY ALLUSIONS are usually just brief asides in a meandering JOURNEY (a la ODYSSEYS) that doubles as a FIGURATIVE trip through the heart and soul of the ROMAN EMPIRE. the NAMELESS protagonist is a COMMON PLEBIEAN who comes across the fallen relative of a senator and steals his name and cargo, a BEAUTIFUL likewise ANONYMOUS woman encapsulated in ice.
the journey this imposter takes on throughout the EMPIRE, through good fortune and bad, seems to be set up as a POIGNANT ALLEGORY for the vacillating INDECISIVENESS and eternal mysteries of FATE. at times his IMPETUOUS nature is rewarded and at other times used against him by POWER STRUCTURES that seemingly may or may not have a used for him, and that context is ever shifting. even resolved in POWER as a SENATOR at the NARRATIVE'S CONCLUSION, he is still rendered ISOLATED (the woman trapped in ice is DEAD) and STERILE by a PAMPERED community of overly-PRIVILEGED PATRICIANS who are DISCONNECTED from the realities of the REALM they control, of which he knows intimately from his travels and experiences.
the narrative is OBSCURE, CHALLENGING and ultimately REWARDING but the central power of this GRAPHIC NOVEL are BLUTCH's STARK ILLUSTRATIONS, often rendered in BLEAK CHIAROSCURO as if to emphasize the FALLEN and FRAUDULENT nature of the NAMELESS PROTAGONIST. the nearest artistic analogue i can think of are PAINTERS like CARAVAGGIO or GOYA, who both utilized LIGHT as an imprimatur of their subjects' extreme DEBASED and DEBAUCHED personalities. in PEPLUM, seemingly everyone is rendered in this manner, which seemingly provides a DAMNING JUDGEMENT on the state of humanity during the ROMAN EMPIRE, both on a macro and micro level. just being involved in the enterprise of the massive POLITICAL and ECONOMIC system itself has rendered everyone as MORALLY CULPABLE in the process. its hard not to read that as a critique of today, given how much of modern society is based not only on the POLITICAL and ECONOMIC systems innovated by the ancient ROMANS, but the unique ARTISTIC and AESTHETIC preoccupations of that ancient civilization as well.
PEPLUM is an OPAQUE and COMPLEX NARRATIVE that is exquisitely rendered and THOUGHT-PROVOKING long after consumption. i still debate myself on what BLUTCH was attempting to accomplish, which is the sign of any great ART. most definitely worth checking out.