cover image The Red Mother with Child

The Red Mother with Child

Christian Lax, trans. from the French by Montana Kane. NBM, $27.99 (144p) ISBN 978-1-68112-257-1

This volume from an ongoing series of graphic novels commissioned by the Louvre museum pulls off an action-packed and splendidly drawn narrative, but delivers a muddy message. In 1940 Mali, a priceless African statuette is rescued from European looters. In 2015, the country is occupied again, this time by Muslim hard-liners. Alou, a honey hunter, is tasked with smuggling the statuette out of the country to safety, joining the boatloads of refugees fleeing the region. Meanwhile, at the Louvre, curator Claude cares for an identical statuette and frets about anti-refugee demonstrations. Drawn in delicate inks tinted in blue and sepia tones with rusty highlights on the statue, the book looks gorgeous; Lax draws bustling crowd scenes, National Geographic–worthy shots of African landscapes, and individual, humanized characters. But the premise of a plucky refugee delivering a cultural treasure to a wealthy European institution seems tone-deaf. The book’s pro-refugee message is also well-meaning but limited, with pillaging Arabs and nationalist Parisians cast as cartoon villains while glossing over more genteel forms of exploitation practiced by curators more concerned with art collections than with the welfare of the people and cultures responsible for the art. Not sure if it wants to be a red-blooded adventure comic or a nuanced discussion of global issues, this comic doesn’t entirely succeed at either, though it looks so good readers might forgive it. [em](June) [/em]