Atar Gull or the Tale of a Model Slave is a story of a man with an iron will so strong that he makes his revenge possible where all others would give up. The story in many ways reminded me of the Count of Monte Cristo, but in its own way, more tragic. This is a tale without the ease of European courtly life to soften the interludes between each shock of revenge. It is a tale of greed, anger, and betrayal.
The European comic book (or graphic novel) team of Fabien Nury and Brüno came together again to tell this story. They collaborated previously on several books featuring their noir criminal Tyler Cross. This book, though equally as violent, has a completely different feel to it.
The book has four sections, a prologue set in Africa where a young Atar Gull is introduced, book one that features the hardships facing both the enslaved and the slavers, book two takes place in the Jamaican plantation where Atar spends most of his life and an epilogue in France.
One of the reasons that this book is so compelling is that it doesn’t settle for simple stereotypes of any of the characters. You get to understand their motives that informs the decisions that each of them makes. You may not (and should not) like what they decide or even the characters themselves, but you do get a real insight into them.
This is especially important in a book like this where it is easy to look at the subject matter of slavery written by two white Europeans and just write it off as cultural appropriation. I had a lot of apprehension about this book going in and in the early pages of the book where we are seeing thing though the eyes of a slaver, that wasn’t eased. But the book doesn’t excuse the actions of any of its character and acknowledges that their flaws don’t justify any of their crimes.
Brüno’s art style is reminiscent of children’s cartoons of the 1950s and 60s. While at first this seems like a strange style for a story about slavery, it pays off as it makes the violence the characters commit and encounter all the more shocking. It isn’t a one trick pony even when the violent scenes stack against one another. The dichotomy of the style and the action depicted prevents the violence from becoming routine.
If you are at all interested in French comics or just want to take a break from the usual men in tights, you should pick up Atar Gull. It is a story that works on many levels and you will find yourself reflecting on it long after you have finished the last panel.
Writer: Fabien Nury
Colorist: Laurence Croix
Publisher: Europe Comics