By Xavier Dorison and Mathieu Lauffray
Well, here’s a very pleasant surprise. I didn’t know what to expect from this Cinebook release, having not read anything about it prior to opening it. And to be honest I wasn’t that keen to start – the cover and the back cover blurb didn’t do much for me.
Oh, how wrong could I have been? It’s no straight continuation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, that would have been far too easy. Instead we get something wonderful, something completely unexpected and yet another Cinebook title I’ll be eagerly looking forward to the next volume. I absolutely loved it.
Set twenty years following the events of Treasure Island, Long John Silver starts with a discovery of the fabled Amazonian city of gold; Guiana-Capac. It’s something Lord Byron Hastings has been obsessively searching for for many, many years. And his long search has paid off. But to fully realise the dream (or more realistically, plunder an ancient, magnificent city) he needs money; money to raise a ship and a crew to travel from England to pick up his ill gotten booty.
(Absolutely stunning. Now, how many old school artists does this put you in mind of? Joe Orlando? Kubert? Personally, and I think the lettering helps a lot with this – I’m seeing a lot of Eisner. However, I’m sure someone more knowledgable in these matters would be able to point out the Euro artists Lauffray is referencing. From Long John Silver Volume 1 by Dorison and Lauffray, published by Cinebook.)
And that’s where we join the story, with Lord Hastings on the brink of something historic. But before the story goes further, it detours to the Hastings’ family home, and we meet the formidable Lady Vivian Hastings, wife of Byron. She’s a magnificent character; strong, determined, constrained by her sex and the strict moral code of the times, but able to overcome these obstacles through a beguiling cunning.
As the narrator to our story explains… “I do not wish to shock you, but I might as well admit it right away… of proper behaviour she had her own interpretation”.
(Manipulative and beautiful, Lady Vivian Hastings plots her way to renewed fortune. Dorison writes her so well, a delicious black humour, as seen here with the references to the Hastings lack of fortune. From Long John Silver Volume 1 by Dorison and Lauffray, published by Cinebook.)
Like so many nobles of the time, Lady Vivian is living a lie of opulent luxury and has quite literally had to sell the family silver (and the sapphire necklace, and the pearls) to maintain the lie. She’s not seen or heard from her husband Byron in three long years and is about to declare him legally dead and salvage her lifestyle through marriage to the ridiculous Lord Prisham, who’s child she’s carrying. Everything is going so well…….
But salvation is short lived, as fate, in the shape of her brother-in-law (himself no stranger to Lady Vivian’s affections) steps in. Suddenly she faces complete ruin … her hated husband is alive and has demanded the sale of the family home, their title and the Hastings’ fortune (what little remains) to fund his Amazonian looting party.
Faced with ruin and being a very devious type indeed, her only option is to manipulate the situation to her own ends – to join the trip herself, to get rid of her husband, to rescue her name, her title and obtain the gold for herself.
Which brings us, inevitably, to Long John Silver, hired by lady Vivian through Doctor Livesey (who travelled with Silver on board the Hispaniola in Treasure Island), to infiltrate the crew travelling to the Amazon, hired to be her man, to bide his time on board and then, when the time comes, to take whatever actions are necessary.
(Long John Silver makes his entrance. Perfectly. And where once I saw Eisner in Lauffray’s art, here it’s pure Neal Adams (and Alan Davis). Don’t you agree? From Long John Silver Volume 1 by Dorison and Lauffray, published by Cinebook.)
I was won over to this book within the first 20 pages – the setup is intriguing, the historical potboiler aspects beautifully done. But what really did it was Dorison’s writing of lady Vivian Hastings – a nasty, manipulative, Machiavellian woman of her times. Never truly evil, just making the best use of her feminine wiles in a time when that was often the only power available to women of her class. Whenever she’s in danger of losing our sympathies, Dorison cleverly works in something of her past – her husband’s cruelty, the risk of losing everything, even a telling line as the baliff’s are ransaking her house: “Give these sabres back to the Captain, Elsie. And do not grieve for them, my father sold me to Hastings for much less than that.”
But inversely, he’s never too charitable to her – for every moment of sympathy, there’s more than enough machievelian nastiness to show us just what she’s capable of. Dorison writes her character so perfectly, so cleverly – it’s a comic equivalent of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. With Lady Vivian taking the role of Marquise de Merteuil, using her wiles and her body to manipulate circumstances and the far more powerful, yet far less clever men around her into doing her will.
By the end of the first part of the tale, a ship has been chartered, Long John Silver has done far more than simply infiltrate the crew, Lady Vivian has relieved herself of her troublesome problem from Lord Prisham via a back street angel maker, and has made a dangerous enemy in her own maid. There’s even a chance to revisit the intriguing question of Silver’s strange moral compass as not so young Jack Hawkins joins the crew.
It’s a simply wondrous, hugely enjoyable book. The characters are so effortlessly amoral, so believably real in a deliciously pantomime manner. But beneath the effortless adventure and the plentiful enjoyment to be had in some very strongly crafted characters there’s a real steel, as Dorison delights in revisiting some of the key philosophical themes that Stevenson addressed in the original. This is a story of modern manners, of morality, or lack therof, of greed, deception and possibly salvation somewhere along the journey.
And all the way through Lauffray’s art, whether looking Eisner-ish, Adams-ish or simply Lauffray-ish, is a little special. Lauffray pulls off some beuatiful, breathtaking scenes and effortlessly captures the spirit of the times and the multifaceted nature of these incredible characters.
I’m so pleased to be able to say such great things of another Cinebook title. This joins Chimpanzee Complex, Largo Winch, XIII and The Scorpion as a book that I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next volume.