The Revenge of Bakamé

Posted by on December 21st, 2010 at 2:13 PM

I have seen a lot of Asia but have never been to the African continent. While reading The Revenge of Bakamé, the latest work of artist Jeroen Janssen and writer Pieter van Oudheusden,  at least I can say that  I visited it for an hour .

Both are experienced comic creators but have never been big crowd pleasers, both gentlemen preferring to do the work they enjoy doing. The Revenge of Bakamé is not their first pairing as a creative team but it is the first graphic novel I have read of this duo.

Big happenings have small consequences. When the airplane with the national soccer team (‘Vive les Imibu!’) crashes down after liftoff, the populace is in an uproar. Was it an accident or sabotage? The obscure trail leads to bon vivant hyena Mpyisi. But how is the trickster rabbit Bakamé involved?

Loosely based upon African folklore, the satire is a majestic swirl of lines, stories within stories, magic and eroticism.

Though the name of Jeroen Janssen is certainly no unknown to me, having seen his art in action his stylings have now been etched across my mind. Janssen’s linework reads like the lovechild of Robert Crumb and Hugo Pratt. It is able to at the same time mesmerize and repulse; the linework being chaotic, detailed and balanced all in one panel. Building up his pages around two or maximum three free floating panels, he connects it all with either background, decorative margins or dense wavy beams of ink reflecting African ethnic drawings. When needed, he opens it all up and inserts a splash page with wavy perspectives, fitting landscapes into his vision of the African continent. Having worked in Ruanda as an art teacher for four years until the genocide started, he has first hand experience of the country and its people. Every line breads an ethnic atmosphere coupled with another essential feature of l’Afrique: eroticism.

Being the writer of Gone, Pieter van Oudheusden has been mentioned here before but in The Revenge of Bakamé, we meet another aspect of the writer: the virtuoso scene handler. In Gone his cast was limited to two persons, meanings hidden in the subtext of fairy tale interactions, in Bakamé he goes full out. He crafts in an intricate tale featuring many characters, all of which have their role to play in the machinations between the hyena, settled in life and the trickster hare. From the daily life of the characters to magical outings in the dream world, from the struggles of everyday life to African magic, from the passion of love to the pure lust of sex; it’s all in here. Oudheusden not only pulls out all the stops in the scenes, he often embellishes scenes by using different storytelling techniques. From voice overs to untrustworthy narrators to omnipotent observers; even the storytelling swirls and shakes its booty in a magical ride.

Both Bakamé the hare and hyena Mpyisi are talking animals in a human world but they are as rounded as any human character in the book. Their personalities subtly befitting their animal looks, neither represents a truely black and white view on life but they roll with the respective punches and treat themselves whenever they can, both egotistical and opportune. Not really opposites but different sides of the same coin, they display a mirror for our own affections, stupidity, greed and selfishness.

Pieter van Oudheusden and Jeroen Janssen display a flair for storytelling and a love of the medium  in The Revenge of Bakamé, all aspects of the grapic novel just click and resonate as a result. It’s 320 pages just fly by and suck you in as Oudheusden and Janssen swing their shaky camera from character to character.  Story, character, linework and design work together to delve the reader under the barrage of Africa and the folklore and ethnicity of the story. One of the main surprises of 2010 for me and I recommend it heartily!

The next collaboration between both artists will be a graphic novel biography of composer Franz Schubert and I am very anxious to see what they will come up with. You can follow this work in progress on Facebook by looking for Schwammerl.

The Revenge of Bakamé is published by Oogachtend. It is in full colour, counts 320 pages on a heavy paperstock and retails for €22.

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