Humanoids is one of those publishers that, 9 times out of 10, just puts out gold. Publishing American versions of foreign comics, they’ve got great books your favorite artists did that you never knew about (like John Cassaday’s interior work for “I am Legion” with Fabien Nury) or any number of Moebius and Jodorowsky releases you’re looking for in the states, such as their seminal book “The Incal.” The books they put out are beautiful, unique and very interesting reads that largely stand above the majority of American comics available (even the best of the creator-owned bunch), and the recent release of “Muse” by Denis-Pierre Filippi and Terry Dodson is absolutely no exception.
Originally titled “Träume” and printed in French, “Muse” is the story of a young and well-endowed woman taking a position with a reclusive young genius at his steam-punk inspired mansion as his companion and caretaker. Her job is never fully explained to her, but she’s light-hearted and care-free, and hey, the gig is pretty sweet overall. But as she goes to sleep, she finds herself immersed in a strange dream world that appears to be custom designed for her, and as the book’s plot thickens we begin to see how far she’s willing to allow herself to fall down this rabbit hole – as well as what it all means.
Reading as a mix of “Little Nemo” and Inception mixed with classic fairy tales, “Muse” is an absolutely delightful yarn. The entire book from start to finish is rather unpredictable, and its high level of intrigue gives way to some very sharp storytelling underneath. “Muse” is a story about stories, in so many words, the closest thing I’ve seen to an adult version of a fairy tale and just as endearing. Whether it be in the reality of the book or the fantasy, every section of “Muse” takes time to explore different aspects of fiction, both of the literary fashion and that of comic books. In fact, the book’s central idea seems to be wonderfully illustrated in its tongue-in-cheek lead, Coraline, whose attractive outer surface makes you wonder if the book is perhaps vapid or even offensive, yet proving to be just as beautiful inside and full of depth, personality and wit. Make no mistake – while the book may at first seem like a cheesecake version of Downton Abbey at first glance, it’s truly anything but.
And there is, of course, the matter of the artwork by Terry Dodson. Dodson is certainly known for illustrating beautiful, curvy and ostensibly attractive women in his work, whether it be interiors or just cover art, and you can find his artwork in many places in the Marvel line. As the cover alone will attest, this book is no exception to the rule; “Muse” is full of Dodson’s penchant for attractive and curvy women in various states of clothing, with a playful sexuality to it. The book never crosses the line of sexualization for the sake of nudity, but rather embraces this weird nature in an open and amusing fashion, weaving this aspect of our culture into the story as a central point. Coraline and her journey, through all of it’s various twists, is just as much about her body and the reactions it can cause as much as it is about the exploration of genres, and the climax of the book is an amusing send-up of your various general sexual tropes. If you’ve seen Dodson’s female figures anywhere and were ever curious as to what extent he could really create a sensual female character that doesn’t feel inherently overburdened by her need to be sexual, this is the book for you.
But it’s not all just about the attractive woman on the cover. The entire world of this book is beautifully realized. European comics often times have a much better sense of space in terms to how the pages and panels are used, and “Muse” is no different. Dodson fits a lot into the story with the artwork, and really brings to life the clockwork of it all. The book is immersed in various genres through the various types of stories it attempts to explore, and whether it be the steampunk machinations of the mansion or an “Arabian Nights” themed dream, the amount of talent that Dodson adds to the scenery and settings of the book is just as comely and attractive as the lead character. For what it’s worth, looking at a book like this, it feels like Dodson’s talents are never really fully utilized on the Marvel books he illustrates; “Muse” shows just how talented he is, and why he’s one of the industry’s most popular artists. (You know – besides the attractive women.)Continued below
So it’s a very interesting mix. On the one hand, the book is definitely a send-up of traditional comic book sentiments on sexuality and the feminine role in it all, not in a sarcastic or comedic way like “Bomb Queen” or “Empowered”, but in something a bit more subtle and nuanced, with a wink and nudge here and there. After all, it is the initial selling point of the book, as the cover clearly indicates. But on the other hand, “Muse” is a very smart and intriguing tale of the exploration of dreams, the power of stories and our relationship to them, all wrapped up in a beautiful guise. And at album size, it makes for a great evening read, like an adult bedtime story or fairy tale.
Humanoids books are, unfortunately, a bit hard to come by. In fact, for me, “Muse” was a bit hard to find. It took visiting a few shops before I was able to snag a copy, which of course was done so quickly and without reservation. If you’re able to track down the book and are interested in a) creative storytelling, b) literary tricks and c) gorgeous artwork, then “Muse” is for you.
But in the mean time, check out these four pages and try to honestly tell me you don’t want to track it down one way or another. Come on.
(And no, I’m not going to share any of the good stuff. You’re going to have to go buy the book for that.)