Sunday, March 28, 2010

Review: On the Odd Hours

On the Odd Hours, by Eric Liberge, 2010, NBM, 72 pages, $14.95

This is the third in a series of comic books that NBM has co-published with the Louvre museum (the first was Nicolas De Crecy's Glacial Period; the second was Marc-Antoine Mathieu's Museum Vaults, which I thought was fantastic and reviewed here; forthcoming books include Bernard Yslaire and Jean-Claude Carrière's The Sky Over the Louvre and a book by Hirohiko Araki). After Museum Vaults, I was really looking forward to reading On the Odd Hours. Unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations. It's not terrible or anything -- there are actually two very neat ideas in here, and Liberge surely gets points for trying something different -- but problems with the story, the storytelling and the coloring seriously hampered my enjoyment of the book.

The story is about a young deaf punk named Bastien who stumbles into the role of being the night guard at the Louvre.  The first neat idea in the book is that the art comes to life during the "odd hours" of the night, and only Bastien and his mentor-predecessor know how to communicate with it and treat it properly.

For the most part, the plot follows a fairly standard trajectory:  Bastien is asked by the current "guardian of the odd hours" to become his apprentice, Bastien sees some of the art come to life and (sort of) rejects his new calling, Bastien's life falls apart, Bastien accepts his position as the new guardian, and the artwork accepts him and all appears to be well.  Add in that Bastien starts out an angry person who can't control his temper, but grows to become a better person as he finds his place in the world, and you could have a tidy little story.

But Bastien's personality issues are not actually resolved at the same time that he accepts his position; he ends up lashing out, hitting a patron of the museum, and getting fired.  Bastien then uses (abuses?) his new powers to let all of the spirits of the artwork out of the museum so that they fill Paris with strangeness, startling everyone and forcing his boss at the museum to re-hire him and give him room and board at the museum so that Bastien will bring the spirits back inside.  It's an awkward fourth act that takes up a significant chunk of the book, and it makes it seem as though Bastien hasn't actually grown at all -- he's still kind of an ass, but now he's a more powerful ass.

Aside from the plot, I had other problems with the book. The coloring somehow manages to be both psychedelic and unrelentingly dull. It's as though the comic has been placed at the bottom of a puddle that has a sheen of oil coating it, so that every page has weird rainbow colors floating on top of a dim gray-green color. I could understand if this technique was only used during the scenes when the artwork came to life -- it would accentuate the fantastical events and set them off from the rest of the book. Unfortunately, the entire book is colored this way, which both diminishes the impact of those scenes AND doesn't help with the somewhat confusing storytelling.  Here's one example:

Now that you've looked at the coloring, take a second look at the placement of the captions on that page.  Notice how several of the captions intrude on other panels?  If used properly, this lettering technique can connect a sequence of panels, so that a reader's eye looks at Panel A, sees the caption from Panel B breaking the borders of Panel A, read the caption, and then looks at Panel B.  Unfortunately, in this book many captions connect two panels that are not meant to be read one after the other (Panels A and C, for instance).

Below, I've added green arrows that show you the correct way to read the page, while the red arrows show you an incorrect sequence that at first appears to be correct because of the placement of the text boxes (click to enlarge):

On a single page, there are at least four places where the eye could be led astray by the text boxes.  The layout is already fairly complex, and this problem really makes it difficult to follow.  This occurs throughout the book, and hurts the storytelling.

I did say that there were two neat ideas here, however.  The second neat idea in the book is how it shows deaf characters using sign language:

This is a technique that I have never seen before, and it is really quite cool.

The idea that art comes to life during those dead times of the night when most people are asleep, that art needs to be listened to -- I like that idea. Unfortunately, this book flunks the execution. I'll still look forward to any future books in this series, but I'll try to keep my expectations a little lower.

READ MORE: Here is a three-page excerpt.

BUY IT: From Amazon here: On the Odd Hours

RELATED: My reviews of other comic books published by NBM:

Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.


  1. Nice review. Those colors are certainly weird and distracting. It seems like they might have been done that way to try to make the line art blend in with the photo-based backgrounds. It ends up not working very well, if you ask me. And I like the arrows to demonstrate poor panel flow; I wonder if that sort of complex layout is more common in European comics. Or certain kinds of Euro-comics, anyway; combined with the coloring, this reminds me more of the Heavy Metal style of Euro stuff than the stuff that's more similar to American indie comics.

  2. Dear God. That arrow page just give me a headache.