Comic books in North America for the longest time have been seen as a lesser medium of pop culture; even the Japanese equivalent, manga, sell more than their American counterparts here. However, as ignored as some claim the North American comic book is, the European comic that is even more dismissed over here. The Killer is a French comic brought to North American audiences by Archaia Studios Press. It was originally published in five issues; for their translation Archaia has split each book into two, twenty-two page issues. The first two issues, “Long Fire”, introduce us to the main character, an assassin whom we follow around on an assignment; all the while the book gives us a gritty narrative that holds it own with any American noir comic.
Noir titles have certainly come into their own the last few years, with such titles as 100 Bullets and Criminal; it has shown that noir storytelling is not only perfect for comic books, but profitable as well. With The Killer, Archaia Press is adding its own stamp to the noir genre. Never mind the cool title—as with most cool noir titles it is simple and to the point—but the story and artwork are both top notch and make this one of the best reads around.
While this is the first of a ten issue mini-series, each two issue arc can also be read as self-contained stories. Matz’s writing is tense and allows you to enter into the mind of this assassin-for-hire. Jacamon’s artwork fits the tone of Matz’s writing, and each of his characters has a distinct look, allowing you to keep track of who is who with ease. Even the coloring creates a tense, moody atmosphere that is a little different that what you are used to in most North American comic fare. All in all one can tell from the very beginning that this book is something different.
While I do not read a lot of European comics, this one feels like it bridges the gap between European and North American sensibilities. Some would argue that noir as a storytelling form is more of a North American concept, but here Matz and Jacamon are able to add European sensibilities of depth and character development to create one of the best noir books on the market at present. You are able to feel for the character even while he does things that are immoral. The artwork style lends an originality to the concept, maintaining a fine balance between realism and artistic license. One of the big advantages of this translation for North American audiences is that the artist, Jacamon, provides the English translation. Thus the narration and dialogue remain close to the French original. The only negative aspect of the translation is that normally, European comics are printed on larger pages than American ones. For the purpose of a North American audience, Archaia has shrunk-down the artwork to fit on a standard comic book page. Hopefully when the series is done, Archaia will print an over-size collection, allowing the artwork to return to its original size so that readers can get a true sense of just how impressive the visuals are.
Anyone looking for a good noir comic or an introduction to the European comic world could not do better than Matz and Jacamon’s The Killer. It blends deep characters with gritty artwork and a story that pulls you in. If you read these first two issues, you will want to read the rest and see where this story goes. So do yourself a favor and support European comics, especially those French, because they have given us one of the best reads this year.