Aug 13, 2015

Presto! The Joy of Bandette

"Do you think master thieves steal only paintings and jewels? This is not so.
For example, we steal hearts and smiles, to give to those in need."

Bandette, by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover, is a delight. That is the simplest way I can describe it. Bandette is a delight. The eponymous heroine, a Robin Hood type with Camp sensibilities, fights crime and the forces of evil in a manner inspired by Tintin, with a speech pattern straight out of JM Barrie and Oscar Wilde books, and always, constantly, with a smile on her face.

Bandette is Camp, yes, and of the purest kind. While the common use of the word implies corniness, Camp really is just the emphasis of artifice and exaggeration, style over substance, to create something aesthetically pleasing. It's stylization played completely straight and with no hint of self-awareness. It's the beauty of masks, the joy of the show.

Bandette, always one step ahead of her enemies, at times feels like she never faces anything of consequence. But while that may be a criticism of more, shall we say, dramatic series, in a whimsical romp like this, knowing she's going to win is part of the fun. When she has to face bank robbers in a hostage situation, she does so by calmly pulling off a trick by letting them have all the money. When she runs into something unexpected to kick off her first collection of stories, Presto!, she quickly calls her team of assistants, affectionately called urchins, to execute a flawless plan. In fact, when Presto! ends, Bandette is in a contest with her rival, Monsieur, to see who the greatest thief in the world is. I'm 100% certain she's going to win that contest, and I can't wait to find out how in the next volume, Stealers Keepers. The fun is not in the worrying of how things will turn out in the end, but in how they will get there.

Coover's ink wash technique provides the perfect feel of whimsy and ephemeral quality to the book, and also imprints a very specific style on Bandette's already sizable and impressive cast of characters. As mentioned, there's her rival in thievery, Monsieur.

There's the Friends in Need Improvement Society (FINIS), and their leader, Absinthe.

There's the lovable old gruff cop who can never make an arrest without Bandette's help, Inspector BD Belgique, and his retinue. Belgique tries so hard, but he's just not good enough, and your heart breaks just a bit for him every time he has to call a wanted criminal to help him out.

There are Bandette's urchins, each with their own stories to tell, and each with their own personalities. Right now the most notable ones are the Three Ballerinas (bottom right), mainly because they're three ballerinas, and Daniel (the Thai delivery guy), because he definitely has a crush on Bandette, and she may or may not return those feelings. Daniel also has a prose story in Presto! that showcases Tobin's deftness with the written word and details how Daniel first met Bandette. It's quite charming.

But my favorite character in Bandette's world, maybe even more than Bandette herself, is Matadori, an assassin with a sense of honor, and who's even more Camp than Bandette. She actually narrates what she's doing as she's going along and even has her own entrance spiel!

I will emphasize that all these characters are introduced in the span of four issues. By the end of the fifth issue, and the end of the main arc of Presto, all the characters are on the stage and the momentum is in full swing. That's amazing! It's a full cast of characters, each imbued with their own unique aesthetic and personality introduced in such a short amount of time. That is a testament not only to Coover's design sense, but also her ability to infuse character and personality with facial expressions and body language.

Bandette: Presto! is a comic I picked up on a whim last week just as a treat to myself. I breezed through it and instantly started reading it to my niece. Bandette embodies freedom and the exhilaration of drama. She's a joy to read.

In addition to the main story, Bandette has "Urchin Stories," short strips drawn by different artists, focusing on her supporting cast. You can see them on Monkeybrain's website.

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