Did you know that the Louvre publishes comics? Yes, the most famous art museum in the world has been commissioning various legendary comic artists to write their own original stories inspired by the museum and its collection.
Most of these artists are French, but increasingly the Louvre is working with Japanese manga artists. Hirohiko Araki's Rohan at the Louvre (a spin-off of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure) and Jiro Taniguchi's Guardians of the Louvre have previously been translated into English. Now Viz Media is collecting both volumes of Taiyo Matsumoto's Cats of the Louvre for American publication. The omnibus hits stores on Sept. 17.
Taiyo Matsumoto won the Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material in 2008 for Tekkonkinkreet: Black and White, which was also adapted into a movie. Other well-known works of his include Sunny and Ping Pong, the latter of which was also made into an anime.
Matsumoto's art style is an instantly distinctive one. He toured France at the age of 22 for artistic research, and his work takes more after the works of French comics artists like Enki Bilal and Moebius than it does after other manga. He's a natural choice for the Louvre's comics collection.
Cats of the Louvre is a beautifully drawn book. Much attention is paid to drawing the museum's elaborate architecture, and the paintings within are effectively reproduced in simplified comic form. Scenes that take place inside of paintings are treated with particularly beautiful texturing. The human characters have a looseness to them, but also a strong weight and anatomy.
The cats, meanwhile, fluctuate between extremes: one moment, they're rendered realistically, then the next moment, they're anthropomorphized into hyper-stylized human-cat hybrids. The hybrid designs range from inoffensively cute (Snowbebe is the closest to your standard anime cat-boy design) to the mildly creepy (some of the hairless cats' humanized expressions will reawaken your repressed memories of the Cats movie trailer).
The story is split in focus between the cats going about their days around the museum and a group of human characters working there: the tour guide Cecile, new employee Patrick and old-time security guard Marcel.
Marcel's tragic past becomes the catalyst for the slowly paced but highly intriguing story: 50 years ago, he lost his sister at the museum, and he believes her saw her walk into a painting where she might still be living to this day. The kitten Snowbebe, meanwhile, is discovering his own ability to wander in and out of paintings, and his misadventures might very well end up being the key to Marcel finally finding some sort of resolution.
This is also a darker-toned book. The weirdness of some of the humanized cat designs feels like a deliberate choice to make things less cutesy that they might otherwise be. Those sensitive about violence towards animals should be warned: not all of the cats live, and the death scenes are upsetting and fairly graphic.
Beyond that, the general tone of the book is one that's somber and mournful. The ending, which is somewhat reminiscent of the flights of fancy towards the end of Tekkonkinkreet, is decidedly a tear-jerker one.
Cats of the Louvre is a seriously weird manga, and a seriously compelling one. This is not the sort of mainstream appeal work that will appeal to everyone, not even everyone who wants to read about cats in the Louvre. If you can get on its unusual arty and tragic wavelength, however, there's a serious chance that this could be one of the most rewarding new manga releases that you'll read all year.
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