Isaac The Pirate: Art, Adventure, and the Antartic
Readers of these reviews may notice I'm a sucker for an oddball story concept. So it's no surprise that I liked this French comic, about a Jewish artist who is shangaied by pirates to document their attempt to discover Antarctica. The writer and artist, Christophe Blain, somehow manages to make its rather absurd premise sound almost plausible, which is not a mean feat by any stretch of the imagination.
Isaac is a poor painter in 18th century Paris who lives with his adoring fiancee Alice but is rather down on his luck, unable to get any serious success. One day, in order to get some money, he decides to sell a prized sketch by a more famous artist in order to pay the bills, but is instead accosted by a ship's physician named Henry Demelin, who mistakes the sketch for one that Isaac himself made, and offers him a position on the ship he's sailing on, which he claims will only take a few days to complete and get back home to Paris. Isaac reluctantly agrees, but when he gets on the ship he discovers it's actually going to the Americas!
To make matters worse, halfway through the trip the ship is attacked by the pirate captain John the Pillager, for whom Henry was working as a spy. Fortunately John and his crew are fairly nice guys, and John in particular is thrilled to have a painter on board to document his crew's adventures.
After a detour on a tropical island, John and Henry reveal to Isaac their real ambition: to rediscover the southern land mentioned in passing in the journals of a shipcaptain a hundred years ago, and explore it. But can a bunch of pirates unused to scientific exploration really survive in such a perilous region of the world?
Meanwhhile, back in Paris, Alice tries her best to live her life waiting for Isaac to get back. She also encounters a young aristocrat, Philip Du Chemin Vert, who's attempting to organize his household in order to move to India in order to make his fortune. He employs her so she can have some money to support herself, and quite quickly seems to fall in love with her. Can Alice resist the temptation of this relatively kindly rich young man when her husband has to all appearances abandoned her?
A lot happened in this very short and compact comic (only 46 pages!). I liked how Isaac is fairly deadpan about the rather worrying situations he finds himself in, and how Henry and John are both shown to be relatively nice guys, even though they basically kidnapped the poor guy. I liked how the rough and tumble pirate crew viewed Isaac as both one of the guys and a character to respect (although this is mostly because he's quite good at drawing naked women). I liked how the relationship between Alice and Chemin Vert evolved in a somewhat predictable although still very cute way. And I liked how Blain's artwork both stylized how the characters looked while simultaneously making them look realistic enough that you empathize with them.
There's at least one other volume of this series out there, and I'm looking forward to reading it as soon as I get my hands on it. All in all, this was an interesting little story I ended up enjoying a whole lot. Definitely check it out if you want an interesting adventure tale.