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Tue, June 30th, 2009 at 2:28pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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LARGO WINCH: COMICS, BUSINESS, AND ACTION!

"Largo Winch" is a Franco-Belgian comic series translated and re-printed by the fine folks at Cinebook, about a man of action who's also the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. Three volumes in the series are out now, with a fourth on the way this fall. I've read the first two books, and will now attempt to convince you that it might be a good idea for you to read them, too. If you like high stakes corporate chess matches or high octane action scenes with a rogue-ish lead, you'll love this book. It's just that good.

The first volume, "Largo Winch: The Heir," is really a tragedy. It's a coming of age story, to be sure, but it's ultimately the story of a young boy who lost his parents and gained a cruel adopted father who forced him down a road he wanted no part of. When the past catches up to him -- as it always does in these types of stories -- he's forced to ascend his late father's throne and rule a business empire that puts his life in constant danger. Yes, this is the "origin story," but done with a European road trip sensibility that differentiates it from the traditional "must get revenge for fallen parents" origin story of American comics and media heroes. Ok, there's a little of that, too.

Oddly enough, through ways his adopted father didn't anticipate, that forced educational process led Largo to being just the right person to lead The W Group, the multibillion dollar conglomerate of companies that span the world. It wasn't the strict schooling that did it, but rather the attempts to get away from him, living a nomadic life, and learning street smarts. Thus is Largo created, as a lovable rogue, filled with attitude, able to get down and dirty to accomplish his tasks, possessed of a sense of moral superiority, stalked by beautiful women, and able to bring a knife to a gun fight and still win.

"Largo Winch" is equal parts business drama and action/adventure. Writer Jean Van Hamme ("XIII," among others) and artist Philippe Francq pull this off by alternating between tense boardroom drama and over-the-top action pieces, where our hero outthinks and outguns (maybe "out-knives") his enemies. The amazing thing is, both halves of the series are equally gripping. You wouldn't expect to see pages of talking heads with pregnant balloons filling up the space on the page to be so exciting, but the conflict is readily apparent in all the scenes, and the clash of personalities carries what might otherwise be staid dealings. I can't vouch for the authenticity of the legal machinations discussed in those balloons, but they sure do make for a fun story. (Also, these stories are 15 - 20 years old now. Laws are likely to have changed since then, notably with loopholes closed up. "Largo Winch" is still in production today, and I wonder if Sarbanes Oxley has been addressed in any way.)

The first volume from Cinebook, "Largo Winch: The Heir," contains one of the best opening scenes I can ever remember reading in a comic book. For those five pages, alone, the $20 price tag is justified. In it, the richest man in the world sits in a wheelchair on the roof of a skyscraper, confronted by a man in the shadows pointing a gun at him. The two are arguing -- the rich man clearly set the gunman up to come murder him, but the gunman doesn't want to do the old man any favors. And then there's a twist, the scene ends, and "Largo Winch" is officially kicked into motion.

The rest of the book gives us the story of Largo Winch's upbringing and how he comes to control the W Group, much to the consternation of its Board of Directors, some of whom will stop at nothing to wrest that control for themselves. And just who was that man in the shadows at the beginning of the book, and what might he try next? The book includes an amazing car chase sequence, a complete prison break, murders, attempted murders, backstabbing, knife-throwing, and car explosions. It's like a Michael Bay movie with a brain.

The second volume, "Largo Winch: Takeover Bid," is the story of a challenger to Largo's throne, who attempts to takeover the W Group via means both legal and extra-legal. And Largo might not have a leg to stand on. While it seems like he has the upper hand at all times, it's never that straight forward. This installment includes a ridiculous grand finale that features a race through the city, complete with car explosions, glass pane breakings, out of control motorcycles, castle break-ins, more car chases, and even a guest appearance from The Oval Office. It's all great fun, expertly drawn with skill and precision.

Francq's art style is highly detailed and well-researched. His depictions of New York City are clearly drawn from reference material. Look carefully at the art, and you can see the level of detail Francq added borders on the obsessive. He wants to drop you into New York City, and every detail of the brownstones and the skyscrapers and the road signs is executed on the page. Looking closely on a page near the end of book two, there's even a billboard drawn in for local sports radio station, WFAN, complete with simple caricatures of the on-air talent at the time. I'm pretty sure, at least, that it's Chris Russo on that billboard, with Mike Francesca and someone else (Don Imus, maybe?) behind him. This is how you do photoreference, though. Each line is painstakingly drawn. This isn't a photocopy with the edges enhanced and the colorist left to Photoshop some details in. This is an artist poring over the original model and recreating it inch by inch in thin black lines.

The storytelling is on the grid and easy to follow. No panel borders are broken. The story doesn't let up for a full page or -- could you imagine? -- a double page spread? It packs a lot into each page, but never leaves out the details. Each page is worth your money. You might need to adjust to the lack of dynamism on the page, though. You don't get exaggeration of anatomy to imply action or motion. Francq is careful to drawn every panel as if it's a picture of real people. They emote well and have a strong range of gestures, but they're still well within the realm of the real.

The colors over the art look like something you might have seen in a high-end comic from the late 1980s. Given that the first of these books was published around then, that makes sense. It's nothing flashy, has a bit of a watercolored look, and guides your eye through the page nicely. No Photoshop lens flares, no monochromatic pages, for the most part.

Cinebook's website has sample pages from all the volumes so far, though the colors are much more garish in digital form than on the printed page. The digital colors are much brighter and bolder, leading to an almost neon look to the pages that the dead wood version doesn't have, thank goodness.

The only problem with Largo Winch is that it's a bit claustrophobic. That's right -- the page size is shrunk from the original. There are amazingly detailed cityscape drawings that really put you right into the neighborhoods the books are set in, but the detail gets a little lost on the page. And all the panels start squeezing together after a while. Most of the book is OK, but this is a book which would definitely benefit from the full page size.

From a marketing perspective, I think Cinebook has hit the sweet spot with their format on this book. Again, I'd rather see it in a larger format, but combining two books into one, collecting a complete story each time, and keeping the price under $20 for what is, in effect, an original graphic novel for North America (and the rest of the English-speaking world Cinebook services), is a pretty good deal. You get just under 100 pages of reading material, beautiful art, a gripping story, and decent reprint values. The art doesn't leak through thin pages in order to skimp on a penny or two. This is a quality presentation.

If you like action movies, thriller novels, or even comics like Brian Wood's "Couriers," I think you'll find something to like here, and I urge you to give this one a try. But you don't have to take my word for it. Comic Geek Speak spin-off show "Exploring Bede" tackled the series back in December. They compare Largo to Bruce Wayne.

The first three volumes of "Largo Winch" are available now, with a fourth volume due out in the fall.

DIVESTING MYSELF OF COMICS

My column last week about thinning out my collection prompted more responses than any column I've written in the last few months. For as long as I've written Pipeline, it's always gratifying and surprising to see how many people find themselves -- or have found themselves -- in the same boat. The life story of the comic reader isn't as unique as I once thought. It seems we all go through similar cycles.

Some great ideas came in through email that I thought I'd pass along a few this week:

Use short boxes. This is ingenious. Those short boxes, besides being easier to tote around, can be stored in disused corners and take up a lot less space. As obvious as it is, they look smaller. And when you're trying to convince your wife that you need to hold onto those "Infinity Inc" comics that Todd McFarlane drew 20+ years ago, you need every tool in the toolbox. Pointing out how one little short box won't disrupt everything can be a life saver. Or, at least, a comics saver. (Thanks, Clay!)

DrawerBoxes makes short boxes now. I have a few of them, and they're just as sturdy and just as easy to use as their famed longboxes.

Bind your books. It's something I've been meaning to try someday, and perhaps this is a good time. The Comic Geek Speak guys have been all over this for the last year or two, and it's a very nice technique. Send your stack of comics to a guy in Texas, and he'll bind them up in a hardcover book and send them back to you for a relatively cheap price. If you're trading longboxes for bookcases, this is another nice way to save comics, particularly for those that haven't been reprinted, or whose house ads and bonus materials have particular worth to you.

Give them to the library. It's an old stand-by, but still a good idea. I've thought about this in the past, particularly with books that get sent to me as review copies. Problem is, my local library doesn't accept book donations in the summertime. I might consider this for the fall, though.

The other great thing that came of that column have been the offers from Pipeline readers. I'm still working on figuring out what I want to purge and coming up with a final list, but there are chances here for a quicker purge than I thought.

Lifting all those heavy cardboad long boxes around, though, I now look forward to the day when the wife tells me I need to get rid of all those extra hard drives that store my downloaded comics collection.

One other update from last week: It seems that the "Wednesday Comics" series from DC will expand out one more time from where "Clock Maker" stopped. Picture every page being the size of the center spread. We'll see next week, for sure. I came across the issues of the series in my on-going purge this weekend. I should take a deeper look into those someday. . .

I also found my copy of the "Quantum and Woody" spin-off, "Concrete Jungle: The Legend of the Black Lion" #1, by Christopher Priest and James Fry. Glad to see not all comics are lost in time. Some are just boxed up, waiting to be rediscovered.

I LOVE A PARADE

Read this recently and had to pass it along:

Although there are some very outrageous participants in the annual Comic-Con International: San Diego, most Californians realize that like any other convention, the dress and manner of the con-goers does not typify their everyday life they only represent a small number of the huge comic fan community - many members of the comic fan community do not participate at all.  Certainly there are members of any group who are flamboyant, but I always point out to those new to the convention that this is their weekend to act out, just like revelers on many other occasions.

I edited that a tad. Here's the original paragraph:

Although there are some very outrageous participants in the annual Gay Pride Parade, most New Yorkers realize that like any other parade, the dress and manner of the paraders does not typify their everyday life they only represent a small number of the huge LGBT community - many members of the gay community do not participate at all.  Certainly there are members of any group who are flamboyant, but I always point out to those new to the parade that this is their day to act out, just like revelers on many other occasions. As the photos indicate, this is literally and figuratively a rainbow coalition.

Why is it that members of the non-comics media who immediately show the convention as being a warehouse of costumed freaks never bother making this kind of disclaimer in their coverage?

A gay pride parade in San Diego once coincided with a San Diego Comic-Con, confusing many in town who weren't sure whether the costumed folks walking down the street were parading or practicing their Costume Contest walk.

I think it's time that our oppressed minority rise up and demand the right to love one another -- to marry one another -- to wear our Green Lantern t-shirts in public without people judging us!

Can I get an amen?

Next week: I have a couple of DC options to play with, or perhaps something will pop up this week that I'll have to talk about. Click back here next week to find out. I'm having a lot of fun reading comics to keep my options open.

The Various and Sundry blog coming back to life. A couple weeks of solid photography talk is morphing now into an iPhone Journal.

My photoblog, AugieShoots.com is still going daily, and we're pretty much at the halfway mark for the year. Only six more months of pictures to take!

My Twitter stream (@augiedb) is like my public e-mail box. I check it daily, looking for responses and new conversational threads. Heck, you're more likely to hear back from me if you ask me something on Twitter than my own e-mail box.

And there might still be a new blog on the horizon yet. . . Seriously. It's in the works.

Don't forget to check out my Google Reader Shared Items this week. It's the best of my daily feed reading, some with commentary!

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

Really, are you still reading this? I'm cutting-and-pasting now.

More than 800 columns -- more than eleven years' worth -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

TAGS:  pipeline, largo winch, cinebooks, jean van hamme, philippe francq

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