From our Continental Correspondent – le Pennetier and Berthet’s Poison Ivy
This is the story of a girl who grows up in the bayou in the 1940’s, and is saved from a certain and unavoidable death with the help of a voodoo priestess. Too her dismay, however, death has not left her body, and anybody who so much as kisses her, drops dead instantly. Sounds familiar? No, this is not the origin story of a well-known DC supervillain, but rather the opening act of a new series by BD superstars Yann le Pennetier and Philippe Berthet. Which, incidentally, is also called “Poison Ivy”…
(Poison Ivy Fleur de Bayou by Yann and Berthet, published by Dargaud)
After Swampy, an obvious name for a girl who grew up in a, well, swamp, flees her village, she is promptly arrested for triple homicide. She gets to choose : face a court trial and certain death (again) or join a group of female covert agents in the service of the US government, secretly fighting the war against Germany and Japan that the US officially is reluctant to enter. Each of these agents were recruited for a special ability : one is a quick learner, one is a psychic, one has killer beaver teeth, etc.
“Poison Ivy” is in a way the logical sequel to Yann and Berthet’s earlier series, “Pin Up”. This told the story of another young girl, Dottie, who, amongst others, worked as at a flying fortress plant, as a model for a cheesecake comic, in bondage photography (clearly inspired by Bettie Page) and as a fysionomist in a Las Vegas casino before ending up fishing for venomous snakes in Hawaii.
(panels from Yann and Berthet’s Pin-Up, published Dargaud)
The story of these nine books itself varied from traditional exoticism to hilarious pastiche, but the main selling point of the series was the intricate mix of fictional story and historical reality. The cartoonist that Dottie models for is called Milton and he also does a strip called “Terry”. During World War II, a young fighter pilot called John Kennedy is rescued from a Pacific island. Jane Fonda is seen protesting the Vietnam War in the nude. And so on, the list is endless.
“Poison Ivy” continues this format, but with more traditional adventure and humour thrown in the mix. It’s as if this book is a comic from the world that “Pin Up” was set in (the cheesecake strip that Dottie modelled for, by the way, is called “Poison Ivy” – I’ll be showing some examples on my blog soon). It’s much more coherent than any of the nine “Pin Up” books, but that may as well be due to the fact that this first book is an origin story. A good writer knows that structure is highly necessary to divulge the amount of information that type of story contains, and Yann is indeed a very good writer.
(page from Poison Ivy Fleur de Bayou by Yann and Berthet, published Dargaud)
He knows how to keep his reader on the edge of incredulity: things that are completely impossible or far-fetched become plausible because they are presented in such an order and fashion as to make the reader agree to them.
Berthet, too, delivers, with his unique combination of a very detailed, realistic setting, and cartoony characters (with the obligatory female beauty thrown in for good measure. Berthet’s pages are never dull, but organically follow the story’s tempo, speeding up and slowing down when necessary.
“Poison Ivy” is a very good piece of entertainment. I liked it very much, and reread the complete “Pin Up” series in one go after finishing it. I sincerely hope some American publisher picks it up and puts it in a comic format, which would be ideal for this kind of story.