Advance Review: An Art Book Posing As A Comic, ‘Karmen’ Part 1 Is Simply Magnificent

by Olly MacNamee

Summary

Guillem March may well be know outside of Europe for his work on Batman, but wait until you get a load of ‘Karmen’ Part 1 from Image Comics. A truly masterful art book posing as a comic book from a talent who mixes the details of Moebius with the sensuality of Milo Manara.

Overall
10/10
10/10

If you think you know the art of Guillem March from his work on Catwoman and Batman over the past decade or so at DC Comics, then you ain’t seen nothing yet. As both writer and illustrator of the oversized Karmen Part 1  – a new translation of this critically acclaimed European bande dessinée of the same name – you will witness a completely different side to March’s magnificent art entirely. It’s a far more delicate and fine style with an emphasis on a more real and nature representation of the world around us and the people within it.

On this project March seems a natural successor to the likes of Milo Manara and Moebius, albeit his style, while remaining sensual, is far less sexual than Manara’s own. But there’s certainly an influence there. The leading light of this first part is a good case in point. Catalina is a character who is slowly coming to terms with her own mortality, and remains undressed for the entire of this book, after trying to kill herself in the bathtub. But, Catalina is not presented in any titillating or sexual way. Far from it. Her’s is the more natural body of a twenty-something and while she – and the reader – feel somewhat conscious of her situation, we all get used to it as the story progresses. This is, after all, a comic book that was first published in Europe where such fair is often the norm and doesn’t raise an eyebrow. If anything, the figure work in Karmen Part 1 should be excuse enough for any aspiring artist  looking to improve their anatomy to picked up. Having a naked, natural body type walking and talking across a ninety-five page launch issue offers up some magnificent well observed and executed anatomical poses.

As for the story, it reads as longwinded therapy for the dead, but with a backdrop that could very well be adopted by the Palma De Mallorca as an advertisement for this beautiful city. I have visions of March sitting at a variety of café or bar sketching out the city so he could expertly reflect its beauty and architecture more accurately. Living under the current pandemic only makes me pine more for some travel. And, Palma de Mallorca is not too far from me here in a very dreary and cold England. After reading this, I honestly admit to considering trip to Spain once it’s safe enough to do so.

Take all of this together and there’s still more to praise March for. He uses amazing, sprawling cutaways of building not too many artists can pull off. But, he delivers them in spades across this mammoth first issue and opens up the city even further by delivering a slice of Mediterranean city life that’s so palpable, so tangible, it’s ridiculous. The decision to use fisheye lens effects on many panels keeps this fantasy story off-kilter enough to remind us we aren’t in the land of the living any more.  

Throw into this whole masterpiece a story which only gets more intriguing by the end, and you have a comic book I cannot recommend highly enough. Karmen, our titular star, is an agent if the dead, but paradoxically one with lots of character. But she also has an affinity with humans that is frowned upon by… well, that would be telling. There is more to this than simply a protracted philosophising of the meaning of life, the universe and everything in it, but to learn more you’ll need to pick up the next part. Karmen’s story is only beginning to be revealed by the end of this engrossing read. But then, when you’ve read this, I doubt anyone will not what to grab the second issue. Fundamentally, I believe Karmen is an art book posing as a comic book. Its that good!

Karmen Part 1 is one of the more stunning and sensual stories you’ll pick up this year. But, it’s one you’ll treasure if you do chose to pick it up when it’s out Wednesday 10th March from Image Comics.

Olly MacNamee

A unashamed DC Comics fan and sometime teacher for over 20 years! I got lucky and found the escape hatch. Now, I just read and write about comics all day long. Co-host of the ICE-Cast podcast and one third of the brains behind Birmingham's street art and graffiti festival High Vis Fest.

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