by Sautriot, Sarchione, Lou
All Verlag, 2013
Blade Runner, Mad Max, The Omega Man, Escape from New York – post apocalyptic scenarios have been dominating the creative industry for several decades. Just recently the genre has been revived and moved on to new heights all around. C.O.P.S. is a french belgian comic books series that deals with this issue for two volumes. It is at the same time a comic book adaption of French games developer Asmodee’s role playing game.
What's the deal?French-german author Marc Sautriot places his story in L.A. in 2031. Democracy has become a false front in the US and the government has passed a number of bills to create a near fascistic system in America. The governor of California has decleared independence, a step for which he chose a most significant date: the 4th of July. To re-establish forgotten values California has „reset“ the US Constitution to the period pre 2000. A sort of military coup has secured the changes – an act that has cut the new Republic of California off from the rest of the United States. A number of shady, unwanted subjects are driven to the new state. Among them are religious fanatics and mystics who generally seem to think that California’s doom is right at hand. In this criminally insane ernvirionment the L.A. police department’s unit of C.O.P.S. (Central Organisation for Public Security) is busy securing law and order – by sometimes applying questionable methods. They are authorized to handle anything – from hardened criminals up to simple theft. Having thereby taken on most of former F.B.I.’s tasks, the extent of their power is eyed with suspicion by a number of political parties. Especially when we as readers join in at this point of the story in 2031. The governing mayor – an indigenous woman – emphasises new political and societal ideals that exceed mere safety policy.
The trouble with storytellingThis is largely the background when – right in the beginning – a millionaire’s aeroplane crashes, when carrying his short skirted daughter Brenda to a destination that has escaped me at the moment. After the crash Brenda disappears, leaving no trace. And that’s where the trouble begins. Unfortunately this also concerns the reader. It takes but a few pages to notice that storytelling can not be the teams first and foremost talent. After a promising and elaborate background story laid out in the introduction, expectations are high. But soon the storyline loses focus leaving a kind of disrupted plot that seems hard to follow. By taking a closer look, two major problems stand out: all the while the writer and illustraing artist fail to carve out a central theme and clearly characterize their main figures, far too many side plots are woven into the story to add to its complexity. A number of unnecessary cuts put too much focus on side characters and excessive use of hard-to-read text doesn’t help with that either. It sometimes borders on annoying when information shared in the introduction is re-counted.
All in all this combination doesn’t help the story to gain speed – it rather seems rigmarole and contructed. Suspense has no chance and emotional bonds or empathy are hard to develop for the characters who seem flat and rather exchangeable. A deplorable effect, since the introduction’s fascinating history and background fall flat, simply because the leitmotif isn’t clear at all. In the overall picture Brenda’s fate get’s about as much attention as the forensic’s son who wants a hug or the federal prosecutor Kim Benson who ... what did she want again?
Oh my God they killed Kenny?It is not a crime to keep comic books serious. Comic doesn’t automatically imply „funny“. It still seems advisable to realize the impact and popcultural context of names. You just can’t say „Oy my God they killed Kenny!“ (p 33) in a book like that! It brings out peals of laughter and actually raises the question whether Dr. Marcus Schweizer has pulled a boner in his translating job. The story simply lacks any hidden satire or sarcasm to justify an exclamation of such impact!
In respect to text and typograhy C.O.P.S follows the french-belgian classics. Rectangular boxes contain mostly dialogue – while shouts or varying tonalities are marked by added jags. Lettering is computerized, as is the case in most books, and dominated by uniformly sized capital letters. Unlike American comic books, where dialogue is mostly supported by applying dynamic texts and varying type sizes as well as masterfully placed sound words (onomatopoeia), this book waives such animating tools – much to its disadvantage. Pity, as these are surely not just decorative elements, but a great device to direct your readers’ attention in a way that really helps the story. Of course text in an comic book is most important – just like the artwork. If pictures gain the upper hand it may well be in the nature of a comic book or even make it stand out. If typography however dominates over a book’s visual appearance it has to become very significant – a visual appearance of it’s own, so to speak – to keep the reader involved. In this case the mostly homogenous mass of text does not do the trick. One might rather go for the illustrated classics. It is exactly this peculiarly static kind of type face that takes up too much attention and makes C.O.P.S. kind of hard to read. And whether a comic book actully needs footnotes and a glossary the way a reference book does – may lead to a much longer discussion.
Colours make the bookThe books artwork is mostly influenced by a European, French-belgian style. Its earthy, washed-out colouring implies American influences, as well. Still the artwork lacks the famous ligne claire’s expressivity on the one hand, as well as the artistic clarity and elaborate style of a number of contemporary American illustrators. There are a few panels that show an individual and expressive line, however. Colouring on the contrary is very balanced and mostly dominated by dark colours on a sand-to-brown scale. The darker panels seem to lose a bit in contrast, still this doesn’t hurt the story and may or may not be a result of printing – which is hard to say without looking at the original material. The book’s hardcover and thread-stitching are very solid still the cover tends to bend slightly after reading, while pages on the inside tend to corrugate. A common trouble with many over-sized German hardcover comic books.
A lot of hardcore science-fiction readers and fans of the apocalypse will probably not share my views or despite them find other aspects more intruiging and will probably like this book. Still it seems unlikely that the series will turn out as THE next sci-fi classic. While it is mostly inspired by John Carpenters film „Escape from New York“ it still lacks the essential ingredient. Like Mr. Carpenter, or not – the fact that „ONE Man must go in where NO man has ever gotten out“ makes a world of difference.