In The Smell of Warm Dust, Frederik Peeter’s first volume chronicling the story of Aama, we were introduced to Verloc Nim, a bookdealer in a world that has long since done away with books, spirited away to another plant by his brother Conrad, and in the company of Conrad’s capable robotic monkey bodyguard, Churchill, with the intention of finding out what happened to a group of doctors left there some years previously. What they discovered upon arrival was a kind of schism, a group of doctors left behind in the original base and others departed, taking aama – which we come to learn is the object of Conrad’s journey (he’s been asked to retrieve it by the corporation he works for) – with them, and so they follow. All of this action is bookcased by Verloc and Churchill travelling together across the alien terrain, Verloc dealing with some kind of amnesia, learning as we learn by reading a diary he kept. Part two plunges us back into these coincident worlds, with nary a ‘look what you missed in part 1’ to bring you up to speed. You re-read, you remember or this isn’t for you. Peeters takes no prisoners.
The Invisible Throng opens with Verloc, Conrad, Frienko (a scientist who was ill last time we met him but who has been cured by Churchill), Myo (a blond scientist Verloc slept with on the night he met her – you can tell Peeters is French is all we’re saying) and a mysterious young girl who resembles Verloc’s estranged daughter, travelling on awkward looking silver contraptions (imagine Doc Oc fashioned a furniture range) across the desert. Churchill is leading the way on foot. Again, thanks to Verloc’s diary we skip about – back to the previous night, in the base, arguing with the other scientists, those left behind, flashing forward to Churchill and Verloc, journeying, presumably at some point in the future, after everything we are reading about has presumably passed some sort of terrible crisis. The Invisible Throng also travels further into the past, revealing how Verloc met and came to be estranged from his wife and daughter.
As with Charles Burns’ recent majestic trilogy (X’ed Out, The Hive and Sugar Skull), you read this expecting the vista to open up and questions to be layered on questions, but Peeters is generous, explaining much as we go (Aama, for example, speeds up the evolution of the planet and so as they proceed they see all manner of extraordinary life, and there are whole pages of panels comprised of verdant vegetation and bizarre creatures). There is much here that feels like an imagination running wild. The narrative is complex and grown up, the art is frequently dazzling and there is so much going on that it repays re-reads. You may also find as you go that you are reminded of countless other bits of sci-fi and comics, from Michel Faber’s recent The Book of Strange New Things (which couldn’t possibly have influenced this) through to the likes of Saga, Tom Strong, Alien and Existenz. What’s more, it warrants its place alongside other recent out there work from publisher Self-Made Hero, The Motherless Oven and Celeste – it’s getting so, if you read and like anything from Self-Made Hero, you can make another purchase fairly safe in the knowledge that original work from them will always justify the price of entry. There is also something hard and angular about the story which feels French to this reader but that may just be because we knew it was French before we started reading (but it does feel different to other graphic novels we’ve read and we have to ascribe that to something more than just the fact it was written by Frederik Peeters, which may be unfair). Importantly you also arrive at the end of this book wanting to read on (it’s something to do with the hollow pits of Churchill’s eyes – there’s something wrong with that there robot monkey, I can just feel it in my water) so it’s good news that volume 3 is coming early 2015.
Any Cop?: The more we read, the more we like Fredrik Peeter’s magnum opus. Volume 3 can’t come fast enough for us.