When a story is all about a relationship, does anything else matter?
Fantagraphics Books has published alternative comic books since the late 1970s. From erotica to Disney, the company has released a variety of different books. Bastard from Belgian artist Max de Radigues is an example of the publisher’s diversity.
Bastard is the story of young May and her son Eugene. The two have participated in a heist of the grandest scale as 52 different places were all robbed at the same time in one city. Naturally, this made it impossible for the police to stop any of the robberies. Though May and Eugene made off with lots of money, they are now on the run from the law and former accomplices.
Bastard’s greatest strength is in the relationship between May and Eugene. Early in the story the reader sees how deep their love is, and this bond only becomes stronger as the book progresses. Through a mix of current action, flashbacks, and comments from other characters, the comic constantly reminds the reader of this unbreakable link.
Where de Radigues’ writing excels is how natural the mother and son come off. In a very abnormal setting, de Radigues writes about two very normal characters. The arguments, the conversations, and the decisions are those of a mother and son that would attend a PTA meeting and not two robbers fleeing from the law.
The writing is forced to pick up the slack since the art has a very simplistic look to it — because of this straightforward aesthetic, details and scenery are almost nonexistent. The art style is very reminiscent of a comic strip and may turn many people off. That being said, there is a scene involving a car accident that is well done. The amount of detail in the section stands out and it’s a shame that de Radigues chose to go with a simpler style since he obviously has talent.
In a book that is so dependent on writing, the inconsistencies stand out. There are many plot threads that are visited but end up going nowhere. Most obviously, Bastard hints that one of the robberies may have been committed by a serial killer. This interesting subplot is never mentioned again after being introduced. Even more annoying is that many moments in the book will simply by shrugged off with a passing comment. The first time it happened, it seemed like the character being discussed was not very important. When this proceeded to happen multiples times, it was clear the fault was in the writing.
Nowhere is this more clear than in the pacing. Bastard takes its time developing the relationship between May and Eugene. Every moment spent with them is important and further shows the depth of their connection. Everything else is done at a breakneck speed that hinders any emotional impact. Most tellingly is the book’s conclusion where a series of events happen without any build up. Bastard is about two things: May and Eugene’s flight for survival and May’s quest to seek revenge on the person who has betrayed them. May’s resolution is explained away in a casual conversation with a few accompanying panels. There is no satisfaction for the reader.
Even more emotionally numbing is a shocking revelation regarding May and Eugene at the end of the book. The twist was mentioned so nonchalantly in a single line that at first I thought I had misread it, then assumed it was a typo (the book does have a few). Bastard had done a great job of building the bond between the two and the twist was seemingly to show how deep it truly was. Regrettably, it was delivered so poorly that the entire moment came off flat. This was a classic case of a good idea in theory but not in practice.
The dynamic between May and Eugene is strong enough to carry Bastard on its own. The two fugitives have a relationship that is heartwarming, tender, and sad. Unfortunately, rushed writing and odd choices towards the end will taint many readers’ overall opinion.