This book is gorgeous, but something may have been lost in translation.
Ancient Astronauts is a sci-fi/fantasy graphic novel that tells the story of a young woman named Onys. Trying to leave her past behind, along with her corrupt and powerful father, she lives with her sister on the scholarly planet of Plaine. Onys will have to fight for her life against enemies both familiar and otherworldly, as she tries to find peace and her place in the strange universe. Painted in watercolor, this 166 page book was written and painted over the course of 10 years, by Italian artist Vincent Pompetti and funded on Kickstarter for Black Panel Press. Is it good?
First off, the book is gorgeous. Each panel is a work of art and you can see the time and commitment that Mr. Pompetti put into the project. If for nothing else, the book deserves a place on your shelf for the quality of the art, which is unlike anything else you’re likely to find at your comic shop. The portrait quality of the panels makes the characters and locations seem that much more realistic. It helps the fantastical elements, like dinosaurs and ghostly beings, not break the suspension of disbelief, because he paints them with the same amount of detail and respect he gives to the main characters and locations.
The story itself is very ambitious as it concerns the personal story of Onys and the intrigue surrounding the attempt on her life and the political motivations of her family. It’s a journey both figuratively and literally as she has to face her past in order to change her future and change as a person and her worldview. On top of that is a New-Age, meditative look at the motivations of mankind and what drives us and how those goals shape our society. There are action sequences, but the book becomes more contemplative as it reaches its conclusion.
Unfortunately, there is a huge caveat with recommending Ancient Astronauts. Originally published in France, the Kickstarter campaign I mentioned earlier is for the North American release. Since I can’t compare the two versions, as I don’t know French, it’s hard to assign blame to what is wrong with the dialogue and the way the story it laid out. Whether it’s the creator’s original intent, correctly shown in the writing or the fault of translation, I can’t say, but pieces of dialogue that didn’t seem to fit the situation or seemed out of context for where they were in the panel became more glaring the farther I got into the story.
Some word bubbles contained as many exclamation points as sentences, and unless everyone screams at each other in this universe, something just doesn’t add up. On some pages, every single line of text was finished with an exclamation point. Characters say things like, “It is now time for you to leave!”, and “Please join us, you are at home!”, as if they are life and death situations, when the rest of the panel wouldn’t suggest there would be a need for that level of excitement, nor any low-flying helicopter noise to talk over. The dialogue also becomes very literal and much too formal:
Fortutately, thanks to the practice of team sports, the tension and atmosphere are quickly lightening.
Which makes me lean more towards the translation being the problem rather than the quality of writing.
Is it Good?
I wish I could give the book one score for the artwork and ambition of the project, and a separate score for what the finished product ultimately turned out to be. There’s no question Vincent Pompetti is a talented artist, with his beautiful watercolor panels on display. As a writer, the concepts of a future world, whose problems reflect many of those in our society, and the philosophy and hope that we could again rise above those troubles, is certainly interesting if pulled off correctly. And perhaps it was. But the North American release needs a new edit, as the dialogue becomes saturated by over punctuation to the point of comedy and bits of exposition seem to be in the wrong context. If it didn’t affect the overall story, it could be overlooked, but in its present state, the story becomes much too confusing to land with the emotional punch it desires.
For more info on this book (and to read a preview) go to Black Panel Press.