Matt Johnson

NORMAN – Comic Review

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Titan brings an English translation of La Vie De Norman Tome 3 &4 stateside in a gorgeously presented and excellently large volume.  The series stars an innocent-looking but twisted child and his circle of family and “friends” as they attempt to stay alive while his somewhat accidental homicidal nature takes them in droves.

See my other comic reviews here.

Norman the ultimate killer.

So much goodness in this image.

Title: NORMAN: THE VENGEANCE OF GRACE

Writer: Stan Silas

Artist: Stan Silas

Cover Artist: Stan Silas

Publisher: Titan

Release Date: 2.1.17

I’m completely new to the work of Stan Silas, a French comic writer/artist, but a quick Google search reveals he’s been around for a while now, at least overseas.  Norman: The Vengeance of Grace was a large bit of introduction, but I feel like it’s a good way to get started and the story bulk is just right to meet and start getting to know all of the characters.  My only complaint, and one that I saw a few times in a quick browse to find some history of the series, was that this compilation begins at volumes 3 and 4 of the original published versions.  Further searching led to my discovery that Titan has released Norman #1 and #2 already.  It’s probably worth reading them before jumping into this installment.

My initial impression of Norman: TVOG was that it felt like I was in for something relatively derivative of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac or LENORE (also released by Titan), etc, sort of cute-ish but morbid fodder for baby bats and those who fancy themselves keen on the darker edge of things.  At the surface that impression is likely fairly accurate, but I quickly came to find myself sucked into the big little world written and drawn by Silas and when it was over I found myself wanting to follow the character further to see how the story progresses.

There are a lot of easy comparisons here and I probably covered the easiest above.  What really pulled me into Norman’s world, though, is another (possibly easy) comparison.  You see, while Norman is about a twisted little kid who ends up killing just about everybody he comes across – either accidentally or on purpose – the stories have a certain charm and wit that lends a warm feeling similarity to Calvin & Hobbes, which is one of my all-time favorite things in this world.  He even has an imaginary (I think?) friend named Thing-A-Mie who guides him along and gives him advice, sometimes good and sometimes self-serving.  The imaginary friend looks like a little devil, but in tiny adorable form and quickly became one of the characters I enjoyed the most throughout the collection.

Back to the warm kind of charm.  Don’t get me wrong, this series is bloody, violent, and murderous.  There are some graphic, twisted deaths; some are portrayed in a humorous manner and some are just graphic.  I happen to be a fan of both, but I wanted to reiterate that part.  There is blood, guts, melting bodies, and mass murder.  And through it all there’s an interesting mélange of light and darkness.  The illustration style, in particular, lends a feeling of energetic comedy with some of the panes reminding me a lot of some old Shin Chan episodes I saw years and years ago.  The end result is a strange contrast, moreso even than the earlier-mentioned “influences”.  The genius behind Silas’ writing is that with all the cuteness and bloodthirstiness, the tendency toward cynicism in the genre is mostly missing here.  What we end up with instead is a kid who’s trying to figure the world out.  He looks up at towering adults and is ganged up on by kids behaving much as real kids do, and through it all he’s mostly just trying to make his way toward some understanding or to fulfil an everyday childish motivation (the Christmas sequences, in particular, play this up well).  And then, just like in Calvin & Hobbes, there are these quiet sort of moments, pensive and thoughtful, and you almost want to let the page fall quietly for a minute to contemplate the beautiful scene that’s been presented to you.  Where C&H would’ve cut to a wild downhill wagon ride or spaceman sequence, Norman usually brings some blood to jar you back out of your calm moment.

In addition to quiet, thoughtful moments, there are also a few quiet and genuinely sad moments in this book.  There were a few times where I did a bit of a double-take, went back and reread, and then stopped to chew on what I’d just read.  I love when a comic can do this to me and if I’m being perfectly honest, I liked it even more here because the art style lulled me into a feeling that everything was going to be superficial, even though I’d already read some pretty heavy stuff.

I touched on the art a little bit earlier.  I really liked it.  I’m not gushing at it like I have in a few of my recent reviews, because it’s simply not that style of art, for the most part, but it’s perfect for the style it’s driving at.  The characters have a cuteness and a slightly skewed craziness to their movements.  Again, some of the style reminds me a lot of Shin-Chan, but far, far more refined.  The kills all look cool, and the setups are all really nicely executed.  To wit, the thoughtful and touching moments I mentioned earlier are driven home a lot more powerfully by the choice of art style here.

One of my favorite things about Norman, overall, is that it plays a lot with the horror genre.  There are panes and scenes throughout that will bring a smile to the face of horror fans.  See the cover art above for a mash of a few references and you’ll have some idea what to expect.  Being a total horror dork, I found myself geeking out every time I caught a reference and sometimes knowing what the turn of the page was likely going to show me pulled me that much deeper into the world.  I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff, especially when it feels like genuine love, rather than trite and forced, as tribute references often can.

I’m not going to break down each of the stories here, because much of what I enjoyed about reading Norman was that I had literally no idea where the next segment was going to take me.  Suffice it to say, there’s enough here to keep you busy for quite some time and I think if you can get past the somewhat confusing beginning, you’ll enjoy the ride as much as I did.
It looks like Titan are releasing more in the Norman series, but their website is somewhat clunky and I wasn’t able to suss out whether it’s more translation/re-releases or actual new stuff.  Either way it’s a series I’ll be keeping up on now.

If you like Norman: The Vengeance of Grace, I highly recommend LENORE, and the works of Jhonen Vasquez which, to be honest, should be read by everyone everywhere.

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