Sunday, June 8, 2014

500 Essential Graphic Novels: The Yellow "M" (1956) Edgar P. Jacobs

Gene Kannenberg’s 500 Essential Graphic Novels: The Ultimate Guide is an excellent starting point for anyone wanting to enter the world of graphic novels. (It's also a great resource for experts, although I certainly am not one of those.) Even though the book is six years old and much has happened during that time, it’s still very relevant. I refer to it often at work but was recently surprised (shocked) at how few of the 500 books I’d actually read. So I decided to slowly chip away at some of those unread books, the first of which is The Yellow “M” - part of the Blake & Mortimer series created, written and drawn by Belgian artist Edgar P. Jacobs. 

The Yellow “M” is actually the sixth story in the series, originally published in Tintin magazine between 1953 and 1954, appearing in book form in 1956. (Jacobs actually collaborated often with Tintin creator Hergé.) That connection with Tintin becomes immediately apparent upon first glance at The Yellow “M”: both contain a similar clear line art style as well as similar (although not exact) panel sequencing. Yet The Yellow “M” (and I assume the rest of the Blake and Mortimer series) features no children, teenagers or animal companions. The adventure aspect of the Tintin books, however, is certainly present here, but so also is a greater sense of science fiction, espionage, cloak and dagger secrets, and more. 

Our two protagonists are Captain Francis Blake of England’s MI5 and his friend British nuclear physicist Philip Mortimer. As the story opens, London is at the mercy of a cloaked villain known only as the Yellow “M”, since he frequently leaves a large letter M inside a yellow circle at the scenes of his crimes, which include several major robberies, the greatest of which is the theft of the Imperial State Crown from the Tower of London. If that weren’t enough, the Yellow “M” has also begun kidnapping many of London’s high-profile citizens, including the editor of the Daily Mail, a criminal court judge, and a member of the British Medical Association. 

For modern audiences, The Yellow “M” may seem too slow, too text-heavy and too lacking in action, but the comic must be judged according to its time. Remember, this is a pre-James Bond era (at least as far as the movies go) and the high-tech gadgets really haven’t yet arrived. And although it incorporates some somewhat clumsy science fiction devices that we might scoff at today, the book actually holds up pretty well against other similar adventures of that era. Sure, it’s not very difficult to figure out who’s behind the Yellow “M”, but that knowledge doesn’t lessen the suspense building on every page. All in all, The Yellow “M” is a good, solid adventure comic that’s worth your time.  For those interested, Cinebook is continuing to publish English translations of the Blake and Mortimer series. I certainly intend to keep reading them. 


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