Bourbon Island 1730 (First Second)

bourbonisland-header.jpgRéunion Island is a place where the naïve get wised up in this new historical graphic novel from Lewis Trondheim (Little Nothings) and Appollo.



288 pgs., B & W; $17.95

(W : Appollo & Lewis Trondheim, A: Lewis Trondheim)

Bourbon Island 1730 is a historical graphic novel by Appollo & Lewis Trondheim (pseudonyms for Olivier Appollodorus and Laurent Chabosy respectively) set on mountainous Réunion Island in interesting times.  The island’s society is made up of French colonials running coffee plantations, their slaves (some brought from nearby island of Madagascar, others from the African continent), escaped slaves known as maroons (from  the Spanish cimarrón or mountain-top dweller since they formed colonies in the mountains) and former pirates who were accepted into the colonial society.

The cover to Bourbon Island 1730 by Lewis Trondheim. Click for a larger image.Réunion is still wild enough to make it interesting to naturalists. As the story begins, the Parisian ornithologist Chevalier Despentes and his young assistant Raphael Pommery arrive in search of the dodo, a rare flightless bird previously sighted on Madagascar which may already be extinct (hence the phrase "dead as a dodo").

Raphael’s mind is on more than ornithology, however: he wants to join the pirate republic of Libertalia, which he believes exists on Réunion and is the only egalitarian society on earth. Raphael has his counterpart in Virginia, a colonist’s daughter who romanticizes the maroons and dreams of being kidnapped by them. There’s also a framing story about buried treasure—it wouldn’t be a pirate story otherwise, would it?

But most of the story involves the naïve getting wised up-there were never dodos on Réunion, Libertalia is long gone if indeed it ever existed, and the rugged maroon life is not suitable for a pampered young girl. It’s a good adventure yarn and along the way you will learn a lot about how island society works, including the unpleasant punishments handed out to slaves who try to escape but don’t succeed. To fill in more of the historical details, the authors have provided eight pages of historical notes which are a good read as well.

The art is mostly squiggly pen work without shading which is quite effective at portraying the dense vegetation of the island—to say that the characters disappear into the jungle is not an exaggeration. But the drawings are so complex that they can be confusing, as if they were meant to be reproduced at a larger scale, and frames that don’t include sections of solid black often look unfinished. Trondheim draws the human characters with animal or bird heads which is disconcerting at first but soon becomes just another aspect of his style. You can check out a preview of the novel at the First Second web site: | Sarah Boslaugh



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