Here’s an unlikely but quite good sequel!
The second volume of Miss Don’t Touch Me, which is published by NBM (here in the colonies, at least) and which costs $14.99, follows almost directly after the first volume, but you don’t really need to know anything about it to read this, which is nice. Hubert writes and colors it, while Kerascoët handles the art (I should point out that Kerascoët is two people – Marie Pommepuy and Sébastian Cosset, but if they want to be known as one artist, that’s fine with me). So what’s the deal with this, especially the odd title?
The title is easily explained – Blanche, the main character, works at the Pompadour, a high-class Parisian brothel, in the 1930s.
When she arrived at the brothel, she didn’t want to have sex with men, so the madam turned her into a dominatrix, and she quickly became the star attraction – the virgin whore and all that. So the other whores call her “Miss ‘Don’t Touch Me'” because men aren’t allowed to lay a hand on her. In volume 1, she was trying to solve the murder of her sister, but at the end of the book, she had no place to go, so she stayed at the Pompadour. In the beginning of this volume, she wants to leave but realizes that the madam and her muscle (“Monsieur”) aren’t prepared to let their star go. Meanwhile, a jealous prostitute is conspiring against her. Finally, her mother comes to town starts causing all sorts of problems. It’s quite a stew!
The main story is how Blanche falls in love. A young man named Antoine shows up and asks for her, but he doesn’t even want her to whip him – he just wants to sit with her for a time, almost ignoring her. He starts squiring her around town, and Blanche begins to fall in love with him. Antoine is from a rich family, and he takes almost perverse pleasure in telling everyone who Blanche is and rubbing his uptight mother’s face in the fact that he’s dating a whore. At one point he announces that they’re engaged, which sends his family into a tizzy but makes Blanche ridiculously happy. Her mother, meanwhile, proves to be a complete gold-digger, and she keeps telling Blanche that she mustn’t have sex with him until they’re married, because if she does, he’ll leave her.
Then, on a night when the Pompadour re-opens after being renovated, Blanche’s rival drugs her and dumps her in the street, and Antoine disappears. Blanche must find him!!!!
Despite all of these plot machinations, this second volume is less plot-oriented than the first, which had a murderer running around. This volume is more about the relationship between Blanche and Antoine and what it means in the context of polite French society. Blanche isn’t too naïve (she’s a bit, but not as much as in volume 1), but she does believe that Antoine loves her, even though we as cynics think he’s leading her on. Hubert, however, doesn’t make things that easy – he leaves us clues as to what’s going on throughout the book, and as Blanche starts to learn about what happened to Antoine, the reader understands it’s more complicated than we think. Antoine is an interesting character – he decries the hypocrisy of the upper classes, who visit the Pompadour but look down their noses at Blanche when Antoine takes her out on the town. He has his own secrets and is hypocritical to an extent himself, which makes his dilemma more interesting. Meanwhile, Blanche’s mother is also an interesting character – she looks out for herself only, even to the detriment of her daughter, but she also tries to explain to Blanche the way the world is, if only Blanche would listen. When Blanche finds Antoine, Hubert does a nice job exposing the twisted logic of sexual mores in upper class society, and what’s nice about the way the book unfolds is that Blanche herself is trapped in this society and can’t find a way out. This is a tragedy in more ways than one (the person who probably least deserves it gets a happy ending), but perhaps the way is clear for another volume?
The art, much like in the first volume, is wonderful – a bit more refined and tighter, but still retaining a charming cartoony look to it.
Kerascoët moves easily from the artful and artificial world of the Pompadour to the squalor of the streets to the hothouse environment of the upper crust, and the details are tremendous. When Blanche is drugged, her world becomes a nightmare smear of faces and monsters, terrifying her and disturbing us. Hubert’s colors add fascinating layers to the art – the earth tones of the lower class scenes are nicely contrasted with the bright and even gaudy colors of the whorehouse and the cool and staid hues of Antoine’s world. It’s a wonderful book to look at, and the final two pages sum up the story beautifully – one shows a party, and the other a gray shadow world where everything worked out. It’s a very nice contrast.
I haven’t gone back and re-read volume 1 yet, but I think this is a bit better, mainly because the first volume seemed more about how shocked Blanche was about her situation and it seemed that she was a less interesting character because of it. She still retains some of that naïveté in this volume, but she’s much more worldly and Hubert does a nice job showing all the facets of her personality, from the pleasure she sometimes takes in her job to the weariness she sometimes feels after a session with the depraved members of high society to the joy she feels with Antoine to the hysteria she experiences when he disappears. The characters are more fleshed out in this volume, even the minor ones. Either volume is good, but this is a bit better. You could just get both of them, too!
Tomorrow: A Steve Niles book that’s not horror! Who’da thunk it?