Review: ‘The Corsair’ Is A Swashbuckling Adventure That Gets Far Too Calm, Far Too Soon

by Richard Bruton

A tale of the high seas, during the time when there was danger both from pirates and enemy ships during wartime. Yet, alongside this danger were the Corsairs, privateers, heroic figures, fighting alongside the navy in times of war, plundering according to a strict lawful code.
In this European graphic novel from relatively new publisher, Black Panel Press, there’s a chance to re-live that life of adventure…

I’ve long been a fan of Euro comics, whether that was discovering Asterix, Tintin, or Lucky Luke at the local library as a kid, or discovering Moebius, Druilliet, Joost Swarte, Jacques Tardi, Lorenzo Mattotti et al through Heavy Metal, Epic, Raw and the like. But the problem there was that it skewed the idea of European comics towards either a playful all-ages feel or very much an adult fantasy style.
But there’s so much more than that to be found and find them I did, mostly thanks to the work of the excellent Euro-comics publisher Cinebook who, since 2005, have been reprinting the whole gamut of bande dessinee comics available, showing us all that there’s so much more to Euro comics than the (admittedly brilliant) likes of Asterix and Tintin or Moebius and Druilliet.
Now, one of the best I’ve read from Cinebook was Long John Silver by Xavier Dorison and Mathieu Lauffray, an epic 4-volume tale of danger and adventure on the high seas. And that’s kind of the feeling I wanted to get from The Corsair, a new swashbuckling adventure from Black Panel Press.
And it sort of does it. Sort of.
The same sense of adventuring and exploration is there for sure, especially on some quite lovely pages featuring action at sea, which is where the very best of this book exists…

Yes, just in those couple of pages you can see the potential that exists in The Corsair.
Sadly, it’s a book where that potential is just never realised and it all ended up being something that fizzled out well before the end of its 60 pages.
Its short length means everything is thrown together all too quickly. In short order, we get introduced to both the concept of the Corsairs themselves and one particular Corsair captain, Roscoff. And just the concept of the Corsairs, covered in more depth in the text pieces at the end of the book, could easily have filled half of a first book in a 3 or 4 volume series, such is the fascinating idea of a whole area of naval combatants sitting somewhere between pirate and fully-fledged navy.
Instead, we set sail with Roscoff and his crew, them frustrated by the peace treaty between France and England, meaning there’s just no war for them to take part in, to take plunder from, and myself, as reader, frustrated at the all too broad strokes of the characters.

Alongside Captain Roscoff, there’s Gwenola, niece of the famous submariner Surcouf, First Mate Grimm Oyre, and Raffle-Tout, both enemy of Roscoff and jilted lover of Gwenola, a pirate of some repute. Throw a troublesome genie into the mix as they all cross the southern seas in search of the treasure of Rackham the cruel and what you have is a tale that has all the potential for grand adventure.
But as I say, it never manages to get to that stage. Everything happens too quickly, the characters are simply cyphers, and the whole thing is over before it really has any reason to be, with a blink and you’ll wonder what the hell just happened ending that just negates all that went before.

Now, some of my disappointment with The Corsair may be due to translation, something vitally important in delivering these Euro titles to English speaking readers. A literal translation never works, there’s so much skill required to deliver a translation that has the originality and sparkle of the original. And all too often that didn’t feel the case here, with dialogue that just came off as heavy-handed, stilted even.
But the translation issue also presents itself very visibly across the pages as well, a perfect example of which is this…

The disparity between the words and speech balloons in panel one compared to panel two just rankles, so unbalanced, a thing that annoys and pulls you out of the story, something that’s very difficult to overcome. Yet, in The Corsair, it happens again and again and again.
Artistically, Pompetti’s watercolour pages are pretty for sure, lovely and bright and full of emotive moments when showing us the action from afar, yet sometimes a little too rough and static when dealing with the characters.
So, in the end, it’s something that had promise for sure, had all that potential of crafting a thrilling adventure of great beauty, yet fell rather flat. There’s little worse than a book that feels like a bit of a slog to get through, but that’s just how The Corsair ended up being to me. Such a shame.

The Corsair, written by Tarek, art by Vincent Pompetti, published by Black Panel Press.

%d bloggers like this: