This winter has been a bad one. After a few years of relatively mild weather, it seems that we’re getting hit with the ice and snow in a major way this year. One would think that cold chill might deter me from checking out Snowpiecer, written by Jacques Lob and illustrated by Jen-Marc Rochette, the first english adaption of the french graphic novel Le Transperceneige being release in stores through Titan Comics later this week. Instead, it’s been a not so subtle reminder that while there may be a great deal of snow to contend with, we don’t have it anywhere near as bad as we could.
Snowpiercer is a comic tale that takes place in a dystopian future (is there any other kind?) where due to a cataclysmic event, the entire world has been covered in snow and ice. In the first of two graphic novels, titled The Escape, we’re introduced to the Snowpiecer, a train one thousand and one cars long carrying all that remains of civilization. The remaining population live on the train as it continues its neverending trip on the same track. The train is devided into classes as the rich live at the front of the train in luxury and the very poor are left in the cars at the tail, living in poverty. The tail end is cut off from the rest of the train and those who are 3rd class, also known as “tail fuckers“, have never gotten to venture outside of these cars. That is until one man, Proloff, decides that he’s had enough and daringly escapes the tail by climbing to the 2nd class cars from the outside of the trian. He’s quickly found and detained when he makes it back inside. Upon his arrival, the military that police the train are not sure exactly what to do. He is held prisoner as they wait for word from the front of the train. Enter Adeline, a spokesperson for a group seeking aid for the 3rd class travelers. She wishes to meet with the tail end refugee to find out the conditions he’s come from.
Due to the unknown nature of the back of the train, Proloff and Adeline, who snuck past a few guards to talk with him, are quarantined until the authorities receive word on what to do. When word does arrive from the President’s men, the soldiers are advised to transport both Proloff and Adeline through the train to the see the President. Thus begins the journey through the train and Proloff’s eventual meeting with the President. As the story continues, we get a glimpse of what the 2nd and 1st class living accommodations are like as well as their opinions of what to do with the “tail fuckers“. But when the President’s intentions are revealed, they are not all they seem. Neither are those of Proloff for that matter. This first of two chapters ends with a explination of the train and how it works as well as a hint to the eventual fate of it’s travelers.
With a synopsis like that, it’s obvious that this not an uplifting tale to be sure. What it is is an intriguing look at the difference of classes through strong character work. The plot of this comic is a simple one. We follow the journey of one man through the world (as the train is all that’s really left of it) and along the way we learn not only his thoughts but his secrets as well. There’s a revelation around every corner about Proloff’s character. Some are obvious and others take you off guard as the story takes a turn not predicted. All the while, there’s an easy allegory to be found about society’s treatment of the poor and the guise of politics and religion to promote this behavior.
The companion Adeline is basically our stand in as she asks the questions that the reader is thinking. And like the reader, she’s not always sure about the answers she receives. The content, while dark, is presented in a way that feels very cinematic and adventurous. The mystery of this train is a complex one and the reader must collect the clues to figure it out with each car that Proloff and company visit. There is some great pacing to this story where it takes it’s time to soak in each moment without lingering too long on any particular plot point. This pacing can be attributed to both Lob’s story and Rochette’s artwork.
The style for this book fits the cinematic feel that I spoke of earlier. The surroundings of the snow and ice are very simplistic and by contrast, the train’s interior is an interesting tapestry of detail. This is especially impressive due to the fact that this is a black and white comic but with an expert use of shading, there is great depth from panel to panel. The design of the soldiers uniforms to the clothing worn by civilians gives off almost a stark, Russian vibe. The characters, whether clean shaven or bearded, have a subtlty to their experssions and although stylised, they each have a very realistic presence. This really helps when the story takes a quick turn you didn’t see coming. The drama of the characters’ reactions come shining through.
In it’s original french publication, Snowpiercer was a big success. So much so that fimmaker Joon-ho Bong adapted it into a film starring Chris Evans and Allison Pill (as well as a host of other actors). The film is being distributed in North America by The Weinstein Company later this year. This is one book that I feel you should check out before the movie hits as it is an experience that while I feel will translate well to the screen, it will most likely be greatly changed to bring it in under a 3 hour time frame. Snowpiercer Book 1: The Escape hits comic shops and book stores this week. If you’re into cool stories about futures that suck, this one is worth your time.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!