Graphic Novel Friday: Eric Liberge's "On the Odd Hours"
Over the past couple of years, NBM Publishing has teamed up with the Louvre Museum to produce a series of artistically brilliant graphic novels--see our prior coverage of The Museum Vaults. Each has sought to bring to light some fantastical or strange element of the Louvre, always using some real aspect of the museum as a jumping off point.
The dual inspiration for the latest in the series, Eric Liberge's On the Odd Hours? The Louvre's tours for the deaf, and statistics on the duties of night guards at the museum over more than a century. A tall, large deaf mute man with a mohawk tries to get an internship at the Louvre and winds up being mentored by a strange night guard named Fu Zhi Ha.
Fu Zhi Ha claims to be protecting and caring for the souls of the pieces of art in the museum, and does this in part by releasing portraits from paintings at night, and by creating waves of music from drums and cymbals. As our hero becomes initiated in these strange events, he risks losing his girlfriend, his friends, and even his sanity--for he has become a guard for "the odd hours of the night" at the Louvre.
Liberge does a nice job of suspending reader disbelief with elements like reports from guards in the past, collected in a "Registry for the assumption of duty and succession--1912 to 1975," which includes entries about guards who had to be placed in mental hospitals, guards who claim that "the varnish on the paintings is diffusing a fatal gas," and guards who claim that "every night the museum seeks to devour [them]".
But perhaps the only thing standing between Liberge and true disbelief is his amazing artwork, which renders the museum and its contents in a dazzling light. Statuary and paintings that you may even have seen in the Louvre, which you may take for granted, become startlingly new due to Liberge's approach.
I can't say I always bought into the plot of On the Odd Hours, but for this series the plot is more like a delivery system for appreciation of the Louvre, and in that context it works quite well. I also applaud this willingness to look strange. This is a very dark series, and it speaks volumes that the Louvre's trustees and administrators seem to revel in allowing others to create odd myths about the museum.