Isaac the Pirate Vol. 1: To Exotic Lands

By Christophe Blain
96 pages, color
Published by NBM

Christophe Blain is one of those super-creators in France that very few English-speaking people have heard of. NBM seems determined to show us just what we’ve been missing, though. They’ve already published his graphic novel Speed Abater, and his work as an artist on Dungeon: Early Years is hitting stores early next year. The book I’m probably the most excited about, though, is the one that just hit stores: Isaac the Pirate.

Isaac is a painter who struggles to make ends meet. When given an opportunity to set sail and make some money, he leaves his fiancee Alice his advance pay and heads off to the seas. Being a pirate certainly wasn’t what he had in mind, though… to say nothing of sailing south to explore Antarctica! Being a pirate is anything but fun and games.

A collection of the first two French volumes, Blain’s story in Isaac the Pirate caught my attention almost instantly because of how it moves in directions I never saw coming. A trip to the Antarctic? Alice’s new job as a personal assistant? Every twist and turn had me almost jumping up and down in my chair for joy because I was having as much fun reading the book as Blain clearly had writing it. There’s such a wide range of emotion on display here, from excitement and thrills to despair and horror. Isaac’s journey is the proverbial “feast to famine”, moving from the lush Caribbean to the barren Southern Ocean. It works quite well to have these two volumes collected together, to feel the real contrast in settings and experiences that Isaac goes through. Isaac himself is an interesting character, with a great relationship to both the Captain and Henry. You can see the friendships between them develop as they share anecdotes and experiences, and it’s easy to see why Isaac would stay on board.

Blain’s art in Isaac the Pirate has a fantastic look about it. It’s as if you’re looking at paintings from the 19th century that just happen to tell a story. The colors seamlessly integrate with Blain’s pencils and inks, kept in mind constantly as part of the art instead of an afterthought. The deep greens of the Antarctic scenes, for instance, provide a real sense of gloom and claustrophobia that most movies can’t create. That’s not to discount the actual lines of Blain’s art as not being strong in their own right, though. Blain has a real expressive style of art with which to tell his stories. Watching Isaac and the pirates interact, or Alice and her boss, you get a real feeling that these are actual people thanks to the way that they move across the page. If you had to sum up Blain’s art in Isaac the Pirate in a single word, it would almost definitely be “classy”.

Isaac the Pirate Vol. 1: To Exotic Lands is a great introduction to Blain’s graphic novels. Knowing that there’s a third, uncollected volume out there just makes me hope that he finishes a fourth volume before too long so we can get another two-in-one collection. Pirates may be a hot fad sweeping the country, but Isaac the Pirate is a book that will always be popular.

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