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#32 [Apr. 24th, 2010|11:25 am]

100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

#32 DUNGEON: THE EARLY YEARS - Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, Christophe Blain

“It’s impossible to write and live adventures at the same time!”

The first volumes of Sfar and Trondheim’s fantasy epic, Dungeon, follow a young nobleman – well, noblebird, since everyone in Dungeon is an animal of some kind – named Hyacinthe as he travels to the city of Antipolis to be educated. Hyacinthe comes from a line of goblin-bashing heroes but he’s more of a refined and romantic soul, which causes trouble when he discovers Antipolis is a pit of corruption and the uncle charged with his education is a crime lord. Dungeon has a lot of fun inverting the clichés of the fantasy genre – Hyacinthe’s education largely involves being taken out for a drink and vomited on and when he does save the day it’s not with a magic sword but a pipe. In later volumes this inversion becomes the focus as the setting moves underground to the titular Dungeon where foolish adventurers are lured so they can be mobbed and eaten by a cast of colourful monsters in an explicit parody of Dungeons & Dragons.

In case you forget Dungeon is French, it’s also frank about its characters’ sex lives in a way you don’t often see in funny-animal comics this side of Fritz The Cat. It’s all a part of Hyacinthe’s broader education, his troubled romantic escapades just another part of his gradual exchange of naiveté for cynicism. His first reaction to the open vice of the city is to become a masked vigilante called ‘The Night Shirt’ who runs around declaiming about justice, but by the end his ideals have been eroded as he acclimatises to the very modern Antipolis, which is the antonym of everything he’s been taught about heroism. Dungeon is the fantasy equivalent of a treatise on the relative merits of laissez-faire capitalism and enlightened self-interest – just in case you forgot it was French again – only one that’s so funny you don’t mind at all.