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Graphic Novel Review: The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer: The Affair of the Necklace by Edgar P. Jacobs

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If you thought Franco-Belgian comic strips were all teenage Belgian sleuths and vertically-challenged Gallic barbarians, then think again. Comic strips and, in particular, book-length stories in strip format (what, today, we would call "graphic novels") have a rich and diverse history in both France and Belgium, largely resulting from Nazi Germany's rampage across Europe and the subsequent difficulty in obtaining imported American strips in the occupied countries. This led to Franco-Belgian creators honing their craft by finishing, for the domestic market, the Superman and Flash Gordon stories that had been rudely curtailed by the onset of war in Europe, before going on to develop their own distinctive visual styles and storytelling methods.

The Affair of The Necklace, first published in 1967, is a fine example of non-Tintin Francophone detective/adventure comics and its creator, E.P. Jacobs, was one of the greatest purveyors of the continental European 'clear line' style of graphic storytelling. The heroes of the tale, Blake, the dashing head of MI5, and Mortimer, a brilliant nuclear physicist, are Jacobs's best-known creations, and have appeared in dozens of comic books since the 1950s up to the present day. Jacobs himself produced the first 11 tales, the last being published in 1977. The characters were resurrected by a variety of authors and draughtsmen in the 1990s and have enjoyed a new phase of popularity ever since. To this day, the stories are still set in the 1950s and adhere to the Jacobs' distinctive graphic style and blend of action, scientific romance and high intrigue.

It's no surprise, then, that The Affair of The Necklace is, in terms of the Jacobs canon, fairly standard, though extremely fast-paced, cat-and-mouse fare, following the exploits of the irrepressible Blake and Mortimer as they pursue their arch-nemesis, Olrik, through the treacherous catacombs of Paris on the trail of a stolen piece of aristocratic jewellery. High adventure and plot-twists abound, and not one page is turned without one or the other – or both – of our brave protagonists meeting some peril or enigma with typical good-humoured stoicism.

The real star of the book, however, is the elegantly detailed artwork, a combination of Herge's finely wrought and realistic depictions of people, places and machinery, and Jacobs's own noir-ish, more hard-boiled tendencies. The colour reproduction is stunning throughout, stretching the four-colour palette to new levels of vivid, sometimes comedic, expressionism and low-lit moody atmospherics.

The Affair of The Necklace is an entertaining read and a visual feast. This new edition, translated into English for the first time, would also make an excellent introduction to Franco-Belgian comics for those curious about the '9th art.'

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