Rohan at the Louvre

June 7, 2012

Hirohiko Araki – NBM Publishing – 2012 – 1 volume

So, Hirohiko Araki is my favorite artist. Period. I gush at length about Yasuko Aoike, and I’m also quite fond of One Piece. Those are good for different reasons, but really, there’s nobody like Hirohiko Araki. I could talk forever about why I like his work, but I don’t often get the opportunity since so little of it has been translated into English. That’s an absolute tragedy. But, coincidentally, his birthday is on June 7th, which is the same day as mine, so I use that as an excuse every year to talk at length about his art and work.

In years past, I’ve always held on to a volume of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure so that I had something to talk about that I could actually promote. I have no English Jojo this year, but I do have this extremely unusual book. Issued as part of a series of graphic novels meant to celebrate the Louvre Art Museum in Paris, this actually came out in French about a year before it appeared in Japan, and is more of a French album than it is a volume of manga. I was going to write this up as a license request, but NBM released it in English earlier this year, and I couldn’t be more shocked and thrilled. In order to understand the beauty of this book, you have to see it, so I’m going to scan parts of it and include them under the cut.

I suspect there are few that will stumble across this article that are actually the audience for this book. It’s definitely not in line with a typical volume of manga. The ending is terrifying, but the rest of the book takes its time building up a story and talking up the Louvre a bit. And it leans very heavily on image, whereas a typical volume of manga will use the art to move the eye across the page as fast as possible. Another point against it is that it stars Rohan Kishibe, a character from Jojo part 4, which hasn’t been translated into English. Those jerks in France got to read it though, so it’s not entirely lost on its original European audience. But you don’t really need to know anything about Rohan Kishibe, or stands, or Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, to enjoy it.

The story is a very strange one. It introduces Rohan, a manga artist who has an interesting but useless power to read people like a book. This is his stand power, though the word “stand” is not mentioned, nor does Heaven’s Door really come into play. The first part of the story is a flashback to his 17th summer, and we learn about a woman who stays at his grandmother’s inn. The two begin to grow close, and the woman tells Rohan of the world’s most evil painting. Legend says that it was painted using the darkest black pigment ever discovered, and the artist was executed, cursing his fate and sealing his evil thoughts into his last surviving painting. The woman vanishes, and Rohan forgets about her until the present. Suddenly remembering the legend of the painting, Rohan impulsively visits the Louvre to research it, trying to discover if it really exists.

It does, though it’s kept in a long-abandoned storage area of the museum. The image file in the museum computer archives won’t open. It’s behind a door whose lock is rusted shut, and is the only thing among the empty racks in the room. The storage location is so remote that Rohan is accompanied by an interpreter, a curator, and two firemen. When the painting is found… terrible things happen.

I thought the cursed painting was terrifying, myself. It seems to call specters from the past, though it was not clear to me whether they reflected misdeeds or were ancestral horrors, as Rohan explains towards the end. Things get messy, as you might imagine in a Hirohiko Araki story. Having these stalking, undead horrors attacking in a tiny, dark, abandoned storage room below the Seine is bad enough, but how Rohan escapes was even worse. The idea behind it scared me more than anything else, and watching him crawl away afterwards was haunting.

The whole thing is in color, which is novel. Hirohiko Araki uses rather… unusual color palettes, and it’s fun to see his signature colors in play throughout the story. And when I say signature colors, I mean magenta and cyan. The dominant color changes three times throughout the story, with the flashback at the beginning in sepia, the present in magenta, and the parts in the basement in cyan. Araki uses a watercolor wash to color most things over his inks, though certain things get extra color throughout, like Rohan’s cyan vest and… headband, the yellows of an interpreter’s hair and clothing, or the greens of Rohan’s headband in the first story. It’s all painted in watercolors, and I can’t tell you how happy I was that it wasn’t done digitally. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more detail in the backgrounds throughout, since Araki is usually such a detailed-oriented artist. But perhaps this is a more streamlined look in his modern art, I haven’t read the newer installments of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Perhaps he eased off the linework because of the color, too. It just looked a whole lot simpler to me.

The connection to the Louvre seemed strangely tenuous. We do get to see magenta versions of a few of the famous Louvre works like the Nike of Samothrace or Diana the Huntress, which is nice. But aside from the fact that the fictitious painting is held at the Louvre, we learn about how their storage systems work and that it’s difficult to get a private viewing, and… not much else. I liked it, because I studied art history and took a few classes on museum curating, but I’m not most people. Still, it’s an interesting place to set a story, and I’m happy that this was part of the series that celebrates the museum.

While scanning, I realized it was difficult to convey how good the art was while pulling it out of context. These images aren’t really good examples (except for the one above, which has no context and is pretty fantastic), but it really is a beautiful book, and worth taking a look at. Plus, I thought the story was very scary, which is a rare thing indeed. I’m completely biased, since I’ll read anything from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, but still, this book is pretty fantastic. At least have a look, but I recommend checking out this, along with the other graphic novels in the line. It’s a great concept, and again, I love that they chose Araki to participate.

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