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‘Adam Sarlech: A Trilogy’ by Frederic Bezian (review)

34174208-AdamSarlech_zoomedAdam Sarlech: A Trilogy
Written and Illustrated by Frederic Bezian
Published by Humanoids Publishing
Release Date: May 11, 2016
EAN 9781594651434
Price: $34.95

On first glance, Adam Sarlech may look like a Victorian Gothic-derivative graphic novel: a perfect marketing companion piece with Showtime’s successful series Penny Dreadful, a well-timed alignment with a recent surge of interest in period pieces, a book I, frankly, would normally pass up on, since most Victorian Gothic period pieces always feel too self-aware and too dependent on specific references to characters of the era, reducing the severity and the darkness of the work and creating a Victorian Gothic-lite mood that leaves me hungry for the writing of Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Byron, or Oscar Wilde and upset that I should have been reading the works of these essential authors instead.

However, upon reading the first 5 pages of Frédéric Bézian’s Adam Sarlech: A Trilogy, I noticed something different about the work; Adam Sarlech does not want to pay homage to the Victorian Gothic genre; it is a Victorian Gothic work in itself.

Naturally, you may wonder, “How can a work be Victorian Gothic when created in a modern era?”

The answer: by a commitment to the tone, mood, and themes of the genre to create an original story with them rather than a story that relies on references to them. Adam Sarlech does not have Dorian Gray in it. Adam Sarlech does not have Count Dracula in it. Adam Sarlech does not have Dr. Frankenstein in it. Adam Sarlech has its own original cast, and they carry on the tradition of the persistent dread and wretchedness established by the best Victorian Gothic work.

Three stories make up the Adam Sarlech trilogy: “Adam Sarlech,” “The Bridal Chamber,” and “The Snow-Covered Testament.” “Adam Sarlech” focuses on the vile Mahlerbes family and the legacy of the medium (and perhaps sorcerer) Adam Sarlech; it contains one of the most memorably unsettling characters I’ve seen in a long time: an old man who remains in a constant vegetative state with the exception of a perpetual flow of tears that streams across his face and soaks into a thick collar of cotton that doctors have placed around his neck. “The Bridal Chamber” documents the exploration of Robert Daun in the home of a mysterious Count and twists expectations of a vampire tale into a horrific journey into the mind. “The Snow-Covered Testament” follows three former students of a professor and their quest to fulfill their teacher’s last dying wish and takes the natural human desire to seek closure in tragedy to a new level of discomfort.

Each story gently weaves in and out of the others, with Dr. Spitzner as the key character thread through all three, and by the end, the stories all manage to come together without feeling trite and without rendering the stories into mere devices for the final end. As a result, every story in the trilogy carries its own individual strength, making the reading experience of every individual one enjoyable without the constant questioning of how everything will piece together. Furthermore, every story has its own mystery built into it, so your attention focuses on how the mystery of the single story will end, making the culmination of the three pieces even more surprising when it is revealed on the last pages of the collection.

A work that took Frédéric Bézian five years to complete, Adam Sarlech has an outstanding visual style that echoes the mystery of the supernatural elements and the wickedness of the characters and settings in the trilogy. With exaggerated and contorted faces in a style hearkening to Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and the artists of Die Brücke, the characters all look like ghouls or demons, and, as expected, some of them are. The settings are equally haunting; now rotten and decrepit, the magnificent homes and countryside have long passed their golden days, and the same goes for the souls of the various high society characters who tread these decaying territories. In parallel with every character and action in the plot, every page of Adam Sarlech conveys Bézian’s diligence, expertise, and deliberateness; even if the visual style shifts, no page feels out of place, no panel feels alien.

In Bézian’s Adam Sarlech world, everything has a purpose. Yes, for scares and thrills, you’ll find plenty of the supernatural, the sinister, and the occult, and for purian interests, you’ll find sex, death, and love. But, all of these fantastical elements and the hyperbolic artwork combine to create a trilogy that examines the bowels of humanity, the abyss in our souls, a real, palpable evil that exists in humans, a more terrifying evil that the original Victorian Gothic writers exposed in their integration of the supernatural into reality. Consequently, even though Adam Sarlech is a period piece by definition, it remains relevant in its timeless understanding of evil. Adam Sarlech achieves what so many Victorian Gothic homages fail, and for that, it is a treat for any fan of the genre or for anyone looking for a more “literary” graphic novel.

Plus, it is just too much fun to read and too beautiful to look at, so please do not miss out on what may be one of my favorite releases of 2016 thus far.

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