Written by François Rivière
Art by Serge Micheli
80 pages, color
Published by Harry N. Abrams Inc.
When I was very small, one of my favorite books was a children’s edition of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The idea of exploring the underwater lands of the world was fascinating, and while it was unfortunately a slightly dumbed-down version of the book, it still had enough of Verne’s story to captivate my mind. When I saw that François Rivière and Serge Micheli had created Voyage into the Deep, a fictionalized telling of Verne’s inspiration for the book, I was suddenly a six-year old boy all over again.
Jules Verne, beset by claims of plagarism and critical disdain, is desperate to create his new novel. Calling it Voyage into the Deep it will be a story of a mysterious captain of a submarine and the people captive inside his world. But as Verne writes the novel, he has his own mysteries in which he must solve.
Rivière’s story for Voyage into the Deep unfortunately never seems to really know what it’s trying to be. Is it the story of a man inspired by his surroundings and desperate to have a true literary success? A mystical mystery involving strange containers of liquid and amnesiac boys? A retelling of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? He seems to be trying to go for all three of these ideas here, and none of them really work in conjunction with the others. You never really get a sense of Verne’s passion being anything other than what the writer states to you; there’s a real lack of drive on display here, one that could have driven the story but doesn’t. It’s a complete mismatch, though, for the strange occult element of the story that appears about halfway through the book. I can’t even begin to explain why it’s there, much less what it really means for the story aside from shuffling characters out of the story. If there’s a greater meaning to this sudden shift in tone, it’s a mystery to me. Strangest of all, though, are the pages that adapt Verne’s novel, woven into the graphic novel at the drop of a hat. Woe to anyone who’s never read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea who will otherwise be wondering why we’re suddenly having new characters search for a narwhal, for instance. Oddest of all, Voyage into the Deep ends not with Verne’s narrative, but with a selection from the original novel. Rivière’s story tries to do far too much, and instead of keeping it simple has turned into a convoluted nightmare.
Micheli’s art, by way of contrast, does a much better job of succeeding. His stringy, angular characters are strange to look at but in a good way.Their gaunt faces show little emotion, Micheli preferring to focus on the strange patterns and designs that permeate the art. The parts that Micheli is really good at are the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea sections, making me wish that he was instead illustrating an actual adaptation of Verne’s book. The school of giant squid, the ice closing in on the Nautilus… these are where it’s at. Ironically, the strange, mystical part of the book which I thought was the weakest point of the writing is drawn beautifully by Micheli, using bolts of energy to crackle across the page and pour out of the windows of the mansion in an ominous way.
Voyage into the Deep is an interesting experiment, but ultimately a failure. While the production values are high, the actual material itself just doesn’t hold up to reading. Whatever Rivière was intending for this book just didn’t come through, despite the best attempts of Micheli. In the end, all I wanted to do after reading this book was to find a copy of Verne’s novel and read it instead. Somehow I think that’s going to be the far better experience.