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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

A Belgian Heritage

from graphic novel guest blogger Francisca Goldsmith:

Hermann, a Belgian born nearly 30 years after his countryman Hergé, presents a grim but realistic view of today’s African wilderness.  Where Tintin could escape scary situations through the kindness of being placed within stories for children, Hermann is writing for a hardier audience.  His protagonist in this particular independently standing story is a credibly hard bitten white man who takes his responsibility for a wild animal preserve more seriously than any other aspect of his life. We see the raw savagery inflicted by poachers, the guerilla tactics employed by government agents and Ferrer himself, and the highly visual contrasts between plush, European-style offices and Ferrer’s hardscrabble homestead.  Hermann’s artwork, which includes one very voluptuous female body—assigned to the white reporter who unintentionally leads Ferrer into a political nightmare—and other human and large mammal anatomies that are more realistic, carries a load of high action as well as high adrenalin.  He paints an Africa of beautifully hued days and shadowy nights, the ashes of an African village, the breakage caused in the jungle as Ferrer and his unwitting partner try to run away from pursing government agents. This is realism at its politically charged best: no deus ex machina, no recovery from misunderstanding.

The alignment here with other Belgian cartoonists who have turned their sights to the continent their country historically pillaged is nuanced, lending this story a well-earned place on a shelf that could hold the most controversial (and much edited) of Tintin’s adventures as well as J. P. Stassen’s Deogratias.  All three author-artists have received critical citations for their cartooning; their work depicts both the culture clashes and internationalism that travel invest in one; Africa’s history under Belgian rule and the sharp claw that history still digs into it now receive insightful and provocative revelation at each of their hands.  For all three, Africa is a state of mind as well as a place and people. Hergé’s version tried for levity; Stassen’s bathed our view with unforgiveable guilt; and Hermann personalizes the present that contains the past.

HERMANN. Afrika. tr. from French by Jemiah Jefferson. 56p. Dark Horse. 2012. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-1-59582-844-6. LC number unavailable.  Afrika

Adult/High School–Hermann’s short story provides a front row seat on the nexus between contemporary international politics in Africa, the volatile conditions of a wildlife preserve, and interpersonal relationships. In large, lushly painted panels, the jungle, the natural interactions of large mammals, and the fear-mongering behaviors of political leaders and of seemingly apolitical men all become real. Readers’ viewpoint is largely focused on a white preserve keeper, Ferrer, a man willing to bend to few social graces both in his professional and private life. When a female reporter descends on his home and requests a “tour” of his purview, his eventual permission is grudging. Meanwhile, political leadership backing the “trade” profits that can be realized by poachers set out to rid themselves of Ferrer’s interference. While the ranger and the journalist escape into the jungle and toward another country, his wife is sweet talked into giving up hope of his return and leaves the country to pursue the material world available to her new lover in Europe. Violence, sexual expression, and a simplification of political ends are all appropriate here, and Hermann depicts them with art but not by neglecting the ugly plot and visual details that make his slice-of-life story so compelling.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.