Quick Hit: The Grande Odalisque


Manufacturing a successful heist is a common story trope seen many times over in film and trade paperback. These are stories of a person A meeting a person B, and so on, in order to assemble a Team so that they are able to steal object C; narrative structure we are all quite familiar. People's names have become normalized through this genre. Franchises have literally been built on it. There is reason for our desire to tell stories as these. They are action-packed, they are high-stakes, and there isn't any reason to expect much less from a narrative design combining cat burglar with Thelma & Louise. Heist tales always manage to have a specific purpose keeping you perched to the edge of your seat. The Grande Odalisque, published by Fantagraphics Books this past February, is no different. 

The solicitation pulled from the website speaks for itself as it introduces characters, Alex, Carole, Clarence and Sam, while gently hooking reader without spoiling the atmospheric joyous and sarcastically sexy tone of the book. I am serious when I say that The Grande Odalisque uses all of the genre expectations of a heist and turns them up higher than Seth Rogen on the cover of the British GQ. (And, while I don't mean this in the literal sense, there are mention of the Mexican Cartel so all I ask is that you kindly give my analogy a bit of a pass).
Carole and Alex, the two lead characters in our story, are longtime friends who have mastered themselves as the partners in crime we see them as immediately upon opening the book. The banter and snark eavesdropped upon as we open curtain to the story instantly sets tone for the rest. Alex, the getaway driver, finds herself more consumed with the fact that she's being dumped through text message than she is with making sure Carole exits the building safely with the painting she just stole. Carole has a charm about her wit and snark that makes her instantly likable. There's something about a strong female character with a mouth that could shake off the most vicious of night walker that makes her sexy as hell. Then there's Alex. Aside from being fuel for the driven dialogue she ultimately becomes the character that you feel the most connected to. For a graphic novel sitting at around 130 pages, it makes better use of character development than most stories twice its length. 

Stylistically, this graphic novel is minimalist by nature and uses the titular piece of art's existence as a metaphorical expression of the story being told. The in-real-life 1814 Grande Odalisque painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres is described by many art historians as representing Ignes' shift from Neoclassicalism toward exotic Romanticism. I find this as an ironically buried narrative.

Allow me to briefly explain.

Just as Neoclassicalism was focused on rekindling the what once was, so did the Romanticism period, but from an about-face perspective standing at the same vantage point. Art is immediately reduced to an antiquated form once it looks backward unless it also looks inward. The Grande Odalisque, both the art and the graphic novel, uses this approach to achieve improvement and growth where it was previously assumed as irrelevant. There was nothing inherently wrong with art from the Neoclassical period, but it was the Romantic period that soon followed where boundaries were challenged and new vision emerged. The heist genre follows a similar evolutionary journey right before our eyes here in The Grande Odalisque as it positions itself subject to the pivot point of both. 

Fantagraphics Books solicitation:
Alex and Carole, friends since childhood, are now (literal) partners in crime. But the heist - to steal the Ingres painting The Grande Odalisque from the Louvre in Paris - is too much for the duo to handle, so they bring in Clarence, a bureaucrat's son with a price on his head by a Mexican drug cartel and, more importantly, an arms dealer. Next is Sam, a stunt motorcyclist and boxer by trade, who proves trigger happy with tranquilizer darts. Using soda can smoke bombs, rocket launchers, and hang gliders, Alex, Carole, and Sam set off a set of circumstances that results in a battle with the French Special Forces - and their partnership, which was on the rocks, will never be the same again. Ruppert and Mulot, two of the most innovative comic creators in the world, team up with multiple Angouleme prize winner Bastien Vives to bring you this impossibly funny, violent, and sexy action-packed thriller.

Picking up this book will be one of the highlights of your reading portion of the year. There is something for everyone to enjoy in this graphic novel and it comes with an enthusiastic recommendation from me. And with as much time I spent categorizing it's buried metaphor, I do not want to downplay the fact that this is much more a relationship story than it is a heist one. Carole and Alex reveal a bonded friendship, along with newfound crook-mate Sam, that will make you exhale with celebratory relief when the final pages reveal that "Carole, Alex and Sam will return".  

The Grande Odalisque is available now at bookstores, online, and digitally. 

 Editor & Associate Publisher: Eric Reynolds
Translator: Montana Kane
Designer: Chelsea Wirtz
Type Designer: Cromatik LTD
Production: Paul Baresh
Publisher: Gary Groth
Originally Published as Le Grande Odalisque in 2012 by Dupuis

2021 Publisher: Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Story and Art by Bastien Vives, Florent Ruppert & Jerome Mulot
Colors by Isabelle Merlet