How could it be otherwise? Since Floc’h has been showing off his Anglomania in comics, could he have avoided Blake and Mortimer any longer? An obvious fact, one thinks, upon discovering The Art of War, where, associated with Fromental and Bocquet, he delivers an episode of the adventures of the two famous characters of Edgar P. Jacobs.
After Ted Benoît, then Juillard, after Peter van Dongen and Teun Berserik, here is Floc’h responsible for bringing them to life, between essential respect and necessary innovation.
Spicy detail, insolence of the screenwriters? For this new album by Blake and Mortimer, the father of Olivia Sturgess and Oliver Alban, to whom nothing that is Savile Row is foreign, had to agree to transport them across the Atlantic: in fact, the two heroes lead the investigation in the United States. It was his responsibility to design Central Park rather than Saint James, and the exterior staircase buildings of Manhattan rather than the low houses of Camden.
Let's summarize. The famous MI5 officer, invariably flanked by his scientific sidekick, is invited to speak at the peace conference held at the United Nations General Assembly. Their arrival on American soil is troubled by an incident which occurs at the Metropolitan Museum: an engraved stele reproducing the famous apophthegm “Par Horus abides” is defaced by a mysterious visitor. This is enough to distract the two heroes from their pious duty as citizens of the world. Peace will wait.
Blake and Mortimer set out on the trail of the author of the misdeed, whose name burns the lips of all readers: Colonel Olrik, a half-cruel, half-crazy character, sometimes formidable and sometimes ridiculous, well known to Jacobs's readers. . Captured, Olrik passed into the rays of Dr. Rosalind Shapiro, barely less violent than those of Professor Septimus. This pretty, somewhat strict woman has the scientific presumption to uncover the tangled psyche of this intriguing character.
Is it an obligation when we extend Jacobs' work that one of the characters must undergo a hazardous session of rays? It's a convention. Convention again, the expression of surprise of the characters, the acronym which illustrates Olrik's return to consciousness and evokes the yellow mark, or the use of a strange flying machine which unravels and closes the story.
Obviously, this devil Olrik escapes these jailers, doctors who are too gullible. The pursuit resumes. And the look of the album too. She leads our two heroes around New York. Guided tour: United Nations headquarters, Greenwich Village, Broadway. And soon on the way to Massachusetts, then Vermont by big American. The adventure unfolds on the dimensions of the continent and the wide open spaces do not go so badly for the two heroes, who, from chases to fights, play their part of Death on the Trail.
United States? Parks in autumn, delicatessen, urban taxis, convertible Cadillac, Floc’h reviews the irreplaceable objects of the American dream. Impeccable work. There are allusions to the detective films of yesteryear, with the presence of elegant FBI agents, one of whom, by the designer's own admission, borrows features from Dashiell Hammett. And, to the Russian spy Evgeni Stok, would Floc’h have given Scorsese’s face? You could believe it...
A tribute is discreetly paid to the major press, New York Times and New York Post, another to modern painting with cans found in Olrik's hideout and arranged Warhol style. And a city bar described through the window obviously recalls Hopper's paintings.
What is the purpose of The Art of War, the famous strategy essay by the Chinese Sun Tzu, which gives its title to the album? Very little, except to symbolically evoke the East-West confrontation which mobilized all the attention, military and political, at the time.
Fortunately, as expatriates as they are, Blake and Mortimer have lost none of their legendary intuitions or energy. They are not as disoriented as one would think and do not need anyone to track down crime and destructive madness. Come to think of it, the world isn't that big, and in New York the Penn Club, where they stayed, is a branch of their beloved London Centaur. The local bourbon, no offense to Mortimer, easily competes with the old malt that he usually takes. We breathe. And even Blake must, in fair play, concede that he did not think “that the FBI could show this to the Yard.”
Even based in the United States, Floc’h remains Floc’h, an author with a strong personality and a recognizable style. He not only prints his graphic mark on this story, but also its rhythm, known to readers of Blitz: sobriety of certain pages, silences, obviously in this album, the drawing takes back a power that the scientific digressions inherited from Jacob had could compete with him in previous titles.
Faces are important in storytelling according to Floc’h. They are beautiful and sometimes placed in medallions, as if placed above the story they tell. Dei ex machina, the beautiful Rosalind Shapiro, or Professor Mortimer guide us with their explanations.
How can we describe this album where Blake and Mortimer are neither quite the same nor completely different? It is both faithful to the original and unique. Fans will savor this new successful variation.