King of the Flies vol. 1: Hallorave
Written by Michel Pirus
Illustrated by Mezzo (Pascal Mesenburg)
Translated by Helge Dascher & John Kadlecek
Published by Fantagraphics
A bleak, heavily noir tale of ennui, sex and drugs, King of the Flies tells of four teens, Eric, Marie, Sal and Denis, and a handful of adults connected to them, whose lives unfold in interlocking short stories.
The first installment of three European albums, Hallorave bursts with depravity and ugliness. The few characters who aren’t intentionally using another are either willingly being used or simply oblivious to their abusive ways.
King of the Flies centers around the character Eric (who narrates four of the ten chapters), but is really a tale of lives intersecting. Six separate characters take a turn as the lead, and each focuses largely on scoring a hit, getting ahead in some illegal manner or getting into the pants of someone they’re lusting for.
It is self-loathing, disaffection at its finest. At the book’s most fascinating, Pirus takes inside each person’s head and examines their ability to justify their actions, some via rationalizing, some through ignorance, some through simple narcissistic arrogance. When Eric starts dating Marie before breaking off his relationship with Sal, Pirus swings through all three characters’ vantage points, showing the indifference each feels for the other, yet the pride that demands respect.
One of my favorite aspects to most European albums that I’ve read is how easy to read most are. Three-tiered grids lock the story into a precise rhythm, an inexorable progression of windows into these lives, providing readers with precision storytelling and pacing. Captions are placed squarely at the top or bottom of a given panel, so there’s no confusion about which sequence to read the text in. Even novice comics readers can move smoothly from text to art, panel to panel, and traffic the flow of information easily.
Mezzo, the series illustrator, sticks to a dark color palette, refusing to allow any sunshine into the lives of the characters. By using variety of angles, including occasionally severe zooms and long shots, Mezzo keeps the story visually engaging, and shows the range of his illustrative prowess. Every character and every backdrop is rendered with an eye toward its downtrodden humanity, packed full of deliberate details (from the decor of a room to the blowing of autumn leaves) and sagging, hollow-eyed humanity.
If you’re looking for a light-hearted pick-me-up, King of the Flies vol.1: Hallorave is not it. If, however, you’re looking for a darkly compelling, twisted, beautifully illustrated account of the broken souls and self-absorbed nihilism, Pirus and Mezzo’s album is about as good as you’ll find in the comics field. It’s a stunning piece of fiction, beautifully crafted in its prose, pacing, artistry and crushing understanding of humanity’s ugliness.