16th Sep2019

‘Atar Gull’ Graphic Novel Review

by Chris Cummings

Written by Fabien Nury | Art by Brüno | Published by Statix Press/Titan Comics | Format: Hardcover, 88pp


Fabien Nury, the acclaimed artist who brought us the phenomenal The Death of Stalin a couple of years ago, collaborates once again with Brüno (Tyler Cross, Nemo), with Atar Gull, or the Tale of a Modern Slave. This is based on the 1831 novel by Eugène Sue and is set during the times of slavery. The story, split into four parts, takes us from an introduction to Atar Gull as a young man, and through a prologue, two acts and an epilogue, we witness his life and the enslavement, violence and cruelty surrounding it.

This is, indeed, a very tragic tale, both unsettling and not particularly “enjoyable” in the traditional sense of that word. It takes the theme of slavery and with that aforementioned tragedy, revenge and an attempt to show the humanity in the situation, and not the good side of humanity obviously, it creates a harsh but riveting tale. We witness the difficult lives of those who have been enslaved whilst also spending time with the slavers themselves, showing them as the truly cruel people they were, yet also showing that how that cruelty exists on different levels, almost making you ponder if one kind of cruelty is actually less harsh than another. Of course, through Atar Gull, and his words, we are given perspective about this, and about just how horrific it all is, without exception (which we know, of course). Cruelty and abuse is cruelty and abuse, even if one person seems kinder and more gentle while they’re committing those acts.

It’s extremely compelling, for sure, and I liked the way the book didn’t fall into typical territories, and avoided putting the characters we witness into boxes. We get to learn about these characters, about why they choose to do what they do, and it paints a strong overall picture of them, their horrendous decisions, and their unique personalities. I did find a strong sense of discomfort here, finding it hard to stomach the themes, but I appreciated that it didn’t try, thankfully, to apologise on behalf of those who committed the terror, even when the story attempts to give a deeper build of their characters. It’s grim stuff, as it should be and the subject matter, which should never be “easy” or “breezy”, is a weighty and often depressive experience, and not something I could honestly see myself revisiting for that reason.

The art style, from Brüno, is simplistic in a manner of speaking and has an old-school comic-strip cartoonishness to it that I didn’t really expect when initially reading the synopsis of the book. It works, though, and with the splashes of violent red and the pages of gloomy shadowing, it adds this strange and unsettling tone that feels all the more jarring and brutal due to the conflict of the art style and the themes delved into in the story itself. The story, also verging on simplistic to a degree, features the twists and moments of sheer heinousness that do tend to keep you hooked in, turning to the next page with a dwindling sense of hope and a growing sense of insecurity. It’s one of those tales that sticks with you once you finish, that’s for sure. There’s revenge and survival at the heart and soul of this, a story that walks us into the bleak centre of one of the most disgraceful times in our history. Written very well, this doesn’t glorify the themes it speaks about, but instead focuses on the effects of these things. With an art style that oddly compliments the shocking, strong and punch-in-the-gut writing, Atar Gull is one to check out if you have a chance, at least (and maybe only) once.

****½  4.5/5

Atar Gull is out now from Titan Comics.


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