Released by Titan Books to ride on the release of a movie adaptation, Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette’s Snow Piercer: The Escape is a grim dystopian French graphic novel about a frozen Earth where all of its survivors are trapped on a perpetually moving 1,000-plus car train. A rigidly class-bound world — where those higher up get to live closer to the locomotive and the lumpen third class “tail rats” eke out a bare existence in the back of the train — the social system is challenged when one of the tailees sneaks out of his section into one with working heat.
Proloff, our scruffy runaway, is kept in isolation by the military maintaining watch on the dividing line between the train’s “rolling ghetto” and the rest of its cars, but the member of an aid group from the second class cars named Adeline Belleau hears of his detainment and wiles her way into seeing him. Caught together, the duo is taken in custody to meet the higher ups curious about the escapee. Along the way, we’re provided a glimpse of the decaying civilization that resides in Snowpiercer. “In this closely confined world, even those who live in luxury see no horizon beyond the carriage wall,” Lob writes. When a plague – perhaps brought onto second class by Proloff — begins to rage across the train, the situation looks even bleaker.
Dark and more than a little despairing, Snow Piercer was originally written by Lob (perhaps best known by American comics fans for his appearances in the early years of Heavy Metal) in the seventies but uncompleted with the writer’s death; the tale was finished several years later by artist Rochette and published in the early eighties, inspiring a sequel, The Explorers, which has also been published by Titan Books. Lob’s script is fierce and sharply characterized — most specifically in the tentative relationship between Proloff and Adeline, which gives its gloomy conclusion even more emotional heft.
With its flashes of nudity, earthy language and raging sense of social injustice, this is not an all-ages friendly lightweight comic book, but one that mature graphic novel readers should find fascinating. Artist Rochette’s black-and-white depictions of Snowpiercer’s cramped world suits its setting and the GN’s class-bound themes. As a reader who’s always loved train travel, I’ve got to admit to being more than a little creeped out by some of the sci-fi details of this voyage (the car containing Mama, an enormous living slab of “vat-grown meat” used to feed second class passengers, for instance), but, then, that’s part of Lob and Rochette’s intent.
Perfect reading for all of us caught in this polar vortex Winter.