The fourth in a series of graphic novels revolving around the Louvre Museum, Hirohiko Araki’s Rohan at the Louvre (NBM/ComicsLit) stands as the first work in this commissioned series not produced by a French artist. A manga creator known for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Araki has taken a character from that series, artist Rohan Kishibe, and plunked him in the middle of a dark ghost story abut a cursed painting.
The story opens 10 years earlier when our hero is a young man studying to become a mangaka (manga artist). While staying at his grandmother’s inn over the summer, Rohan meets a mysterious and alluring widow who both inspires his art (“An editor told me my female characters weren’t at all sexy…“ he explains when he’s discovered sketching her, “I was drawing you to train myself a little.”) and tells him a story about a work that’s “the darkest painting in the world.” Painted in Japan over 300 years ago with a “pigment of a hitherto unknown blackness,” the work’s artist was executed and his painting stored in the bowels of the Louvre.
A chance remark 10 years later sparks the now successful mangaka’s curiosity about this most “evil” painting, so he travels to Paris to uncover it. His quest results in the painting’s curse being unleashed on a quarter of innocents–not to mention Rohan himself–as just a glimpse of it releases the hatred of each viewer’s ancestors.
Araki’s depictions of the ghostly attacks beneath the Louvre are darkly grotesque and effective, a strong counterpoint to the brightly hued images of the above-ground museum. The book‘s effete hero (early during his visit, he chastises some tourists for not being respectfully dressed in the midst of so much great art) proves an engaging character, though not having read the original series where he made his debut, this reader wanted a little more information about his self-described paranormal ability to “read people like a book in both the proper and figurative sense.”
Unlike one of its earlier manga releases (the evocative Stargazing Dog), NBM presents Rohan at the Louvre in the traditional right to left format. Araki’s art contains a strong Western comics influence—his figures reminded me of ’70s Marvel more than once—and contains none of the visual short-cuts that can prove alienating to those readers less in sync with manga conventions. Reading this beautifully mounted book, my curiosity about the mangaka’s series JoJo was decidedly piqued. I already know that I’m eager to read any future “Musee du Louvre Editiones” that will be coming out through NBM.