Author/Artist: David Ratte
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: August 2009
Synopsis: “In Sam’s world, pollution is such that everyone is forced to wear gas masks at all times. He lives with a lovely young woman whose face he has not seen in years. Though pollution still poses a few (arguably) negligible problems here and there, Sam finds the state of his world. . . normal!”
Yen Press has experimented with an assortment of colour French and Chinese comics in addition to translating black and white manga. Toxic Planet brings us another of these titles, this time a series of comic strips from French creator David Ratte. Darkly satirizing both polluters and environmentalists, Ratte has created a collection that walks a fine line between preachiness and parody.
Ratte finds his best material when he aims for darker fair. This includes spontaneously combusting elderly people, the horrific affects of acid rain and carnivorous sentient plants. However, I found some strips fell flat, as Ratte opts for very basic messages about the ways in which we destroy our world. The mixture of these darker strips and preachier strips gives the series an uneven nature. As it continues a more playful side emerges, and the humour moves beyond the environmentalist set-up. The generally inept nature of the cast helps to balance things between these elements.
Ratte doesn’t entirely take sides, poking fun at the horrible parenting skills of Sam’s ecologist parents alongside the anti-pollution message. The people who do care about the environment in Sam’s world are just as flaky as those who don’t. Well-intentioned actions often lead to disaster, as seen in the attempts to preserve penguins’ habitat. Particular glee is found in the rampant commercialism of all involved. Whether it’s fast food, oil or organic food, the gas-masked denizens of Ratte’s realm don’t let impending ecological doom stop them from having a good old-fashioned capitalist time.
The artwork is generally strong, as Ratte manages to convey personalities well despite the constant presence of the gas masks. I kept expecting Akira Toriyama to pop up, though a certain pro-environment anime character does. Using body language and dialogue to make his cast memorable, the lack of facial expressions doesn‘t affect the storytelling at all. From his wife’s evolution into a would-be eco-terrorist to his little sister‘s sinister attempts to drive her teacher insane with penguins, Sam’s friends and family fuel much of the humour. The character art in general is fairly impressive when you consider the set-up. The backgrounds are detailed for a comic strip, with lots of fog, dirt and factories – dingy yet not entirely gloomy.
As with An Ideal World , Yen’s design choices work for the book. The trim is slightly larger then manga yet still paperback sized. It uses Yen‘s standard paper which presents the colour artwork fairly crisp. One of the French edition covers is included as an extra, and some of the earlier strips are spaced out with an inventive multi-page black and white silent story.
Readers might be overwhelmed by the amount of content though. French comics, often serialized in weekly magazines in 4-8 page chunks, can sometimes be more compact in their storytelling than domestic comics, especially when contrasted with the Japanese comics that make up the bulk of Yen’s output. Panels are compact and full of information, and the tome reads better when read in smaller chunks than all at once. Though if you look at it a different way, value-wise it’s quite stellar, giving you the complete of the series (160 p.) in one volume for the less than the price of a single BD collection, which were around 50 pages each.
The slightly preachy nature of the book, something Toxic Planet shares with An Ideal World, may be a put off for some readers. However, it’s an excellent value compared to its original printings in French, and something entirely different from much of the usually escapist output of manga publishers. I’d mildly recommend it to those looking to see what French comics have to offer, but hope in the future Yen Press opts for some of the better material available from French publishers. There is a wide range of BD material available in English, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg, and generally underrepresented among domestic publishers. Fans of art comics and black humour will get the most out of this title.