When I lived in France I spent a lot of time at our local médiathèque – library, video store and study hall all wrapped in one – and decided to expand my horizons a bit. The French have a wonderful tradition when it comes to comic books. Not only do they write a lot of comics that aren’t only about superheroes but deal with very adult and partly grim topics. They are also proud of that and every bookstore I’ve been to in France had a comic book section that was as big as the English sections here in Austria are. Long story short, this is the best thing I’ve read during my stay in the country of baguettes and delicious cheese.
published: Vents d’Ouest, 1990-2004
copy: 6 hardcovers
series: Peter Pan #1-6
my rating: 9,5/10
This version story of the boy who would not grow up is written for adults. Peter starts out as an almost-orphan in the streets of London and is taken away to Neverland by a fallen star that turns out to be the fairy Tinkerbell. There, he meets with pirates, mermaids, Indians, and a group of creatures living in the forest. He also meets their leader. The satyr Pan.
It becomes clear very early that this isn’t your cute Disney version of Peter Pan. In the very first scenes, Peter has to bring a bottle of alcohol to his abusive mother – without any money, he is forced to indulge the pedophiles in the bar and let his pants down to “earn” his mother’s bottle of wine. The story starts out grim and Peter’s journey to Neverland offers little relief. Because Neverland is populated by its own cast of mythical creatures and plagued by its own problems. Be it Peter’s trip to the island of Opikanoba, which holds uncounted terrors, or the constant war against Hook and his crew, there is always trouble brewing.
There are many things that fascinated me about this adaptation of the popular children’s story. First, it’s not your happy paradise full of pretty fairies and adventures that always end well. It’s dark, it’s full of evil, there is frequent nudity (fairies wear next to nothing and mermaids and centaurs are naturally topless), there is murder and grime and a lot of blood. This is not a children’s story! Peter’s innocence and forgetfulnes bring wonderful contrast to how ugly the world is – whether it’s Neverland or our world.
The characters come alive in Loisel’s drawings and they seemed a lot more believable to me. A bunch of boys wouldn’t just accept Peter as the leader, they’d question him or want to take over his job. Tinkerbell, a fairy we know to be jealous, goes to extremes to get rid of potential competition for Peter’s attention. And Hook is a troubled man who is not only there for comic relief.
I love Régis Loisel’s style. Both his writing and his art are breathtaking. His squiggly lines gave Neverland a character and I particularly enjoyed how versatile his characters’ looks and expressions are. Female characters are usually voluptuously round, sometimes even chubby, and we get to see boobs in all shapes and sizes. Like I said, it’s not a book for kids but any grown-up will be delighted at the range of body shapes and creatures that roam this magical island. Tiger Lily and her Indian tribe use their own language and there are hints at sexuality all over – which also help to show just how much Peter wants to stay a child forever.
I devoured the first five volumes in one go at the library but the final volume wasn’t available. And before I could find a copy at a bookshop, I left France for home. Since then, I’ve been pining to find out what happens to Peter, Clochette (Tinkerbell), Hook, and Merilin. Finally, I got my hands on an affordable copy of the last book Destins and I was equally swept away and taken to that magical land that, as dark as it is, was wonderful to dive into.
The ending is surprisingly dark, even compared to the first books, and the last volume had a few moments that made me catch my breath. Barrie himself wrote a very appropriate last sentence to Peter Pan.
[…] and thus it will be going on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.
While these comic books can be read as a sort of prequel to the original story, they end on a similar note. The reader can be hopeful for Peter, the eternal child, yet there are some truly dark themes and Loisel made them more obvious than Barrie. Reading these left me uncomfortably touched. On the one hand, I’m enthralled and enchanted by the mythology Loisel has added to J.M. Barrie’s Neverland, on the other hand, he plunged me into the deepest, most vile places within the human heart and left me with an emptiness inside.
In conclusion, this is an emotionally wrecking work of art. There are moments of joy and moments of fun but the dominant note is a sinister one. And it will not let you go…
THE GOOD: Amazing new take on a well-known tale, grim, dark and gorey. Beautiful art that transports you to a different world.
THE BAD: Definitely not for children. At some points, people may be put off by how gruesome it gets.
THE VERDICT: Recommended to people who like Peter Pan, comic books, and stories that take unexpected turns.
RATING: 9,5/10 Close to perfection
- Mains rouges