Brusel: Cities of the Fantastic |
by Benoit Peeters, Francois Schuiten
Magnificent: an adjective seldom used by this reviewer and dreamily appropriate for Brusel, a new graphic novel from Europe.
Its plot is magnificently intriguing. Goaded by a visionary scientist, the government of Brusel redesigns its twisting, nightmarish streets and antiquated buildings into a completely functional, modern city. During the 19th century setting of Brusel, modern means "an homage to cityscapes from the covers of 1930s science-fiction magazines."
Huh? 1930s? 19th century?
A "modern" florist selling a new product that never fades -- plastic flowers -- is enmeshed with these bureaucrats who attempt to scientifically control life, and with a beautiful woman who entangles him in her skirts and an underground movement that wants to destroy the reconstruction.
Its art is a magnificent reverie. The cityscapes of artist Francois Schuiten are heavily influenced by the Winsor McCay comic strip masterpiece, Little Nemo in Slumberland, and SF magazine covers now seven decades removed. Like McCay, Schuiten is a trained architect. Like those old SF covers, Schuiten's cities capture a sense of grandeur, awe and wonder.
Every other aspect of Schuiten's visual storytelling is equality as entertaining and technically superb. This is a rare artistic jewel in which many panels deserve long and delightful study as Brusel is read over and over again.
This charming muddle of different eras, dream and reality is a satire that ridicules bloated bureaucracy, overblown urbanization, pseudo-science and Kafkaesque disenfranchisement from society. More importantly, it is proof that there are comic books that adults will not only enjoy, but also genuinely treasure.
So, if you love it so much, Mr. Fancy-Pants reviewer, why don't you marry it?
Oh, if only. But this graphic novel is out of my league.
Two restrained sexual situations will off-put some readers, but Brusel is one of the best graphic novels of 2001, and remains very highly recommended for adults.