Written by Eddie Campbell and Dan Best
Art by Eddie Campbell
128 pages, color
Published by First Second Books
One of the best things about Eddie Campbell is that, as a creator, I never feel like he’s fallen into a rut. Each new project always seems very different from the previous one, trying out new ideas and storytelling tactics. Sure enough, his and Dan Best’s new book, The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard, is completely different from the last book of Campbell’s I read. And in some ways, I think it’s my favorite book from Campbell in a long while.
The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard was the toast of the town, a circus performer best-known for his death-defying leaps on the trapeze. When one leap goes horribly wrong, he hands the legacy down to his nephew Etienne, whose name is normally preceded with the adjective "useless." What follows is a strange, mind-bending trip through Etienne’s life, as well as the pages of the book itself.
The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard is a bizarre little book, there’s no doubt about that. Characters metafictionally comment on the next episode coming up in the book, plunge through the margins between the panels, and lose characters between episodes. And that’s in many ways just a small fragment of the overall whole of the book. At its heart, ignoring the structure and rule-breaking nature of the book, The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard is about a young man trying to live up to his uncle’s legacy, and the strange adventures that follow him for decades to come. Where else can you find the sinking of the Titanic, Jack the Ripper, and hordes of attacking Prussians? It’s an oddball collection of events, but the episodic nature of the book really makes it work.
Campbell and Best have a wonderful sense of humor on display here, wringing drama out of the talking trained bear falling in love with a commoner at the zoo, or having themselves comment on future projects while the main character worries that his creators have abandoned him. "This is one of those characters who writes his own story," Campbell comments in a dream sequence. "You can’t force it." Perhaps that’s the most astounding thing about The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard; at no point does it feel like Campbell and Best are forcing their narrative forward, instead each piece flowing into the next with an air of silliness and improbability at all times.
The art in The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard is up to the fine level of quality initiated by the writing. Just on a technical level it’s excellent, with Campbell’s painted art creating beautifully rendered characters and backgrounds. What really got me, though, was the amount of thought that went into each page. Some things are easy to note, like the dwarf Zany’s head barely peeking over the top of a panel border when standing next to another character. Some are a little more subtle, like the plummeting Human Cannonball arcing over the borders of the book, transforming into a shooting star as he intersects with a panel before becoming himself again on the other side of the white margin. Some of the art is rendered in different styles, from a child’s drawings to a courtroom sketch or a newspaper article. Even little touches like the different colored word balloons in Etienne’s final story really stand out, each a beautiful watercolor hue that looks rich and almost still wet.
A book like The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard would have been good had only half of the effort gone into it, but Campbell and Best have instead gone all-out and created a comic masterpiece. And yet, through all the humor and joking there’s a touching story about a lost person just trying to find his way through life, with a group of people who don’t really fit anywhere else. I’ve been reading The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard over and over again, and each time I find something new to enjoy and appreciate. Like The Fate of the Artist before, Campbell (with Best) has created a book that’s not quite like anything else on the market. It’s well worth your time to take a look. Highly recommended.
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