Thursday, October 6, 2016

Marie Antoinette, Phantom Queen Review


[A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher]

Marie Antoinette, Phantom Queen is a somber, ghostly tale that weaves together the tragic end of Marie Antoinette with the life of a widowed painter in 1930s Paris. The book, written and illustrated by Rodolphe and Annie Goetzinger, was originally published in French several years ago; this year, NBM has released an English edition with a translation by Peter Russella. According to the forward by Rodolphe, the pair originally intended to adapt the Moberly–Jourdain incident into comic form, before deciding on an original story.

The story as presented is straightforward, which helps the narrative flow easily from panel to panel. Maud is a recently widowed painter living in Paris in the 1930s, who is attempting to hone her talents as an artist while fending off the advances of her stepson, who is all too keen to get his hands on the vast sums his elderly father left his young wife. While painting at the Petit Trianon, Maud's little dog runs away--only to find himself in a time slip, as he stumbles on a gathering held by Marie Antoinette and her companions, who are being told that a mob is marching on Versailles and they must flee to the palace for safety. Maud, whose visit to the Petit Trianon sparks a previously unawakened connection to the spirit world, finds herself enlisted by the ghost of Marie Antoinette to find her remains and bury them, so that her soul can finally rest at peace.

The few twists in the story aren't exactly unexpected if you are familiar with this type of classic ghost narrative, and the story lacks a real antagonist since the attempts of Maud's sleazy stepson to get her money (through marriage, murder, or commitment to a mental asylum) never pose a serious threat. But a good story doesn't always have to be a complicated or difficult one, and Marie Antoinette, Phantom Queen shines as a simple, somber narrative that plunges readers into a tragic tale and then takes them exactly where they want to go in the end. It's the perfect read for a quiet afternoon or morning, when you can take the time to savor the illustrations and the comic's quieter moments, particularly the last few panels.

The illustrations by Annie Goetzinger for the book have to be singled out: they are truly exquisite, and will stay with you long after you've finished reading. I've found myself flipping through the pages again and again to admire the work, and I always seem to find a new detail to gush over. The depiction of Marie Antoinette's ghost, as well as the nightmares of her final days in captivity, are especially memorable.  The soft, dreamy colors are perfectly suited to the ghostly story line, and combined with the artist's great eye for color and mood, they give the comic a dreamlike quality. 

I would recommend Marie Antoinette, Phantom Queen to anyone with an interest in Marie Antoinette, classic style ghost stories or anyone who is looking for a beautifully illustrated story with an eerie undercurrent of the supernatural.

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