We’ve looked at some pretty unusual subjects for comics this year, from tall ships to t-rex surgeons, but we never thought we’d find ourselves reviewing a book about a 19th century naturalist on a mission to illustrate every bird in America. But that’s exactly what Audubon, On the Wings of the World is all about and we definitely didn’t expect to find ourselves enjoying it quite as much as we have.
Writer: Fabien Grolleau
Artist: Jérémie Royer
Price: £15.99 from Nobrow.net
Our rating: [star rating=”4.5″]
Of course it helps that Audubon, On the Wings of the World has been produced by Nobrow Press and so the presentaion is exquisite as always. French writer Fabien Grolleau and artist Jérémie Royer, tell a beautiful story about John James Aubodon’s relentless pursuit of his ornithological goal. Inspired to document the birds of America after a failed business venture, he leaves his family to chase his dream, and in doing so challenges the preconceptions of what is art and what is scientific study, by introducing a new and dynamic style of painting for his subjects that are at odds with the perceieved orthodoxy and sees him come into conflict with the Ornithological Establishment, and also with his rival Alexander WIlson. However his work inspires as much as it confounds, as we see via a fictionalised encounter with a young Charles Darwin.
At it’s heart Aubudon is a tale about obsession and a drive to succeed, but in the latter half it also becomes a tale about conservation. Unlike todays naturalists Aubudon shot his subjects before painting them, rather than leave them in the wild, and so when his history of American birds becomes the book of choice for American bird enthusiasts it also becomes a veritable hunting check list for those looking to take out unique species of birds. This is contrasted brilliantly in the final pages, with a story strand about the disappearance of American buffalo at the same time, and looks at the damaging effect that these men’s actions had at the time.
As you would expect in a book about an artistic naturalist, the visuals are truly stunning and are told in a watercolour wash style that in any other review we would lazily called ‘European/Bande Desinee’ style. But in this case is perhaps the perfect example of what we mean when we refer to that style. It mixes accomplished figure work and draftsmanship (especially the buildings and epic landscapes), with expressive almost Anime/Animation style for the faces and a sublime and subtle use of colour to make a book that is every much a work of art as Audubon’s studies. (Especially the final page which is just breath-taking!)
As you may have guessed by now, Audubon, On the Wings of the World is a truly unique and wonderul book, that could only be published by Nobrow. It may be a difficult sell for those with more mainstream tastes, and is a bit of a slow and quirky read at times. However, if you after something unlike anything else on your book shelf, it is a wonderful story, beautifully told, that rewards a readers willingness to take a risk on something a bit unusual. (And of course for long time fans of Nobrow books it is yet another book that is an essential purchase to add to your collection from this wonderful publisher!)