Incidents in the Night is a rather bizarre comic by French cartoonist David B. Don’t take that as a bad thing though, because I like my comics strange. It’s a sort of hard book to talk about because I think any conversation benefits from the other party having read the story in this particular case. However, I do think it’s worth a review.
So, what is this comic about? Well, basically, the main character, David, discovers a newspaper called Incidents in the Night, and sets out to track down issues. It leads him to many unusual places, and sets him at odds with different parties, including the angel of death. This search becomes his quest, and it seems to give him more questions than answers as he explores incredible book stores and encounters strange characters and forgotten gods. See, it’s a little hard for me to explain. But we can look at this story as David’s quest for answers. Now, that’s the plot.
But what this book is really about is different. The purpose of this story, at least in my mind, is to examine literature, stories. David uncovers fact and fiction, myth and science, and looks to discover just what it is that connects them all. I think the biggest angle under the plot is that of stories and immortality. That is, those who write living forever, even past the death of their physical body. In this comic, David B examines the hope that all humans have, not just authors, of being remembered after they’re gone. I think it’s a fear for all humans to be lost to time. Everyone wants to be “immortal.” Very interestingly to me, he uses one character to personify this quest by hiding in books to avoid death for generations. This literal display of immortality through literature was not only creative, but made the focus of the story clear to me.
Of course, in creating my own comics and stories, I too have had these thoughts. Will work that I create survive past me? It is inevitable to think about these things while crafting any sort of art. So this aspect of the story held special interest to me, making me want to read it even more. I already wanted to read it because a friend of mine recommended the book, but said “it’s very bizarre.” That was enough for me. Then add in the layers that are applicable to my own life, and you have a balance between the strange and the realistic that make navigating this story possible.
I do have to say that, above all, it was the tone of this story that I liked the most. It was a quite surreal read, as there were many times I found myself questioning if this was a dream. The primary bookshop in the story did not use shelves, but instead, the store was full of books forming mountains all over the place. It became, as they say in the comic, more of an archaeological dig than a shopping trip. The proprietor of said bookshop also dressed as a Yeti every now and then to chase customers. That’s pretty weird, but also an example of the subtle humor used to even out the story’s feel. David was able to take several forms, and there was a book filled with nothing but the letter N, representing the forgotten god mentioned above.” These qualities, and more, gave it the dream like quality that surrealism aims to replicate. Some readers may not enjoy this element, the uncertainty of what is or isn’t happening. However, when reading a story, I think it’s best to let go and allow the tale to guide you and see where you end up. That was true for this book, and I really enjoyed myself while reading.
I do think this was what you might call a sophisticated read. The book itself is a little over a hundred pages, so it’s not very big. However, I found myself having to stop and slow down my reading pace, or I wouldn’t understand what was going on. To me, this is a good thing. I’ve read so many comics that I sometimes blow through them without fully absorbing both words and art. So I like when a story forces me to slow down. Especially because this means there is a lot to understand, thus fulling using the medium’s potential.
Now, I think it’s common knowledge that I like the sort of “alternative cartoonist art” that is seen outside of the mainstream of comics. Here is no different. There is something unique, but hard for me to identify, about David B.’s art. The characters are all individual (I have no trouble telling anyone apart) and his art is both exclusive and deceptively simple. By that I mean it looks like you might be able to draw it, but there’s something about the art that makes me think you would know it’s not David B. Looking through his other works, it’s more than clear that he has his own recognizable style. And now that I write that, it seems like a huge understatement, since much of my research has found him being called one of the great modern French cartoonists.
The layout is something to study, as well. Being sometimes open, sometimes crowded, but never overwhelming to my eye. His use of black and white creates a composition that is easy for the eye to follow and, personally, was both fun and interesting to really look at. As I work often times in black and white, I look for how others who know how to use this method work, and David B knows how. And kudos for being able to draw mountains and mountains of books for so many panels and make them clear and interesting to look at. I try to look at these books with a cartoonists’ eye, and this was one I really enjoyed.
I think it’s harder to talk about the art portion of these stories in reviews, so I apologize if that seemed too brief. But sometimes, you just have to see things. That’s why I include pictures!
There’s no doubt this book is bizarre. Or sophisticated. It does take some time to read and I think it deserves a reread to really get everything put before us. But, that is not to dissuade you from reading Incidents in the Night. I think that everyone should read challenging comics to break out of the preconceived notion of the medium. All of this being said, there is still one more volume for me to read, so I don’t have the whole picture. But I have a feeling that, even after reading the conclusion, I’ll still have some work to do to put it all together. And you know, that’s the kind of story I can get behind.