Bandette Vol 1: Presto! by Paul Tobin
Art: Colleen Coover
I really wanted to like this book a lot. But I came away from reading it annoyed at Bandette. She’s a hyper irresponsible, which I know is the point, but I couldn’t relax while in her world. I couldn’t help myself from thinking about all the plot holes. Which is also not the point.
This was part of my monthly book ladies book club. It was interesting to hear the other women talk about how much Bandette was a play on the old-timey French comics. (Which the extras in the graphic novel also talked about.) I admit that my comic book knowledge is pretty thin in that arena. The women who really enjoyed the book seemed to have an affinity for the playful nature and the joy in the book. Which I do agree that this book has joy.
The best of Bandette is, for sure, the art. Coover is masterful. Her process, which sounds extraordinarily labor intensive, makes for a beautiful book. Bandette‘s world is brought to life under her careful penciling, inking, and coloring. I love how each book has as separate color palette and how the inking and coloring give a certain muted tone.
The story and characterization, particularly of Bandette herself, is where the book started to fall apart for me. I love a joyous book, but Bandette seemed too reckless, too unstable, and not self-aware at all. Everything was “folly” and thus, good again.
The first parts of the book about Bandette’s relationships with the Inspector Belgique, who never locks her up, and her urchins fit in line with this. We can’t ask too many questions about just how she contacts the urchins or what their motivation for helping her is. (Except for Daniel, because Daniel is in love with her and they will likely never get together because Bandette just needs her candy bars, distractions, and “Presto!”) We can’t ask too many questions about where Bandette’s lair is and how she got it in the first place or how she makes her moral decisions of which pieces of art to keep for herself and which to give back to museums. Or what makes her not some deep evil that Belgique must lock up, like the others. (Except Monsieur and maybe some of those other villains like Matador.)
Bandette fans may say that I’m looking too deeply. That “Presto!” is the point. But when the assassins show up, when we find out that Absinth kills his girlfriends, when we find out that people can be killed and are in real danger, that’s when “folly” ceases to work to cover up Bandette’s lack of self-awareness and responsibility. If the book was just about Bandette, her urchins, and Pimento, the stakes would match the tone. But there’s more making for an incongruencey.
That said, I’d definitely read a book about the life and times of Belda.
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