On the Odd Hours
Written & Illustrated by Eric Liberge
Published by NBM
Eric Liberge’s graphic novella operates as a story of a young man finding his way in life, while also serving as a tribute to the power of art. On the Odd Hours’ protagonist Bastien, a young, deaf man, shows up for an internship at the Louvre museum in Paris, and finds himself apprentice to a night watchman with the most unusual job. The objects de art in the Louvre possess souls, full with lament or pain, joy or intent. To protect the artwork, the essence of each artistry, painting or sculpture, must find occasional release. This task falls to the night watchman.
Bastien, full of anger for the world, battles his own frustrations and temperament, as well as difficult relationships with his girlfriend and best pal. He’s seeking a place to belong, where he won’t be frustrated by his handicap, or more appropriately the pity that accompanies it.
That’s two paragraphs to give you some idea of what occurs in On the Odd Hours. Eric Liberge’s delivery carries the book’s intent over mostly effectively. One major distraction comes from Bastien’s deafness. To communicate the use of sign language, Liberge resorts to multiple-hands-in-every-panel. The effect of sign language is achieved, but the panels also feel overly busy and fussy as a result. Liberge might have been better served to use the multiple-hands tactic only occasionally, while allowing readers to intuit that the word balloons are communicated via sign language.
Despite that detail, Liberge’s illustrations are very strong. Detailed and moody, each page swirls with dark colors, and Liberge’s strong character work enables readers to immediately emphasize with Bastien and those around him. He also presents effective likenesses of each artwork that Bastien interacts with, including a flirting Mona Lisa. Occasionally Liberge allows the surface effects, colors, lighting, designs – particularly when depicting the souls of the artwork – to overpower the page.
Bastien’s character arc develops slowly and precisely, building to an effective and surprising climax. A strong ear for dialogue helps present the supporting cast as three-dimensional persons in Bastien’s life. It’s an interesting comic book experiment, but Eric Liberge delivers on most of the high concept’s potential. On the Odd Hours isn’t necessarily one of the first comics I’d recommend to a read, but it’s an interesting book nonetheless.