By Dustin Cabeal
Well, I was way wrong about the title of this comic on my latest podcast. The full title is Atar Gull or The Tale of the Model Slave. Which is more fitting than what I thought it was. Listen, reading stories about slaves shouldn’t be easy. This book doesn’t glorify slavery, but it does strangely attempt to humanize all of the people involved in slavery and not in a sympathetic way either.
The first act of the story shows the buyer of slaves. How he’s just doing all this for his wife, that’s clearly with him because of his status and money and not for his looks. This is after a short introduction to the title character Atar Gull as a boy. This is an important scene, but telling you its contents would be a spoiler of sorts so I will skip it. We’re reintroduced to Atar Gull the man, a towering individual that has been captured by a rival tribe and sold to a trader based in Africa. The buyer loads up his ship and heads out only to run into pirates. We’re then introduced to our third villain. He is not a “cool” pirate. He doesn’t value human life and barely cares for his own. Eventually, they reach Jamaica, and the surviving people are sold into slavery.
Our third villain is the most interesting because he’s labeled as a “good” master. At first, you’ll think, yeah he’s not the bad of a guy, but then Atar Gull reminds you of the perspective he has on the subject, and that is when you realize yeah, he’s a villain masquerading as a gentleman. He is, in fact, a slave owner, and though he’s not as cruel as he could be, cruelty doesn’t come with a scale. You either are, or you aren’t.
You might be wondering where Atar Gull is during all this? Side note, you have to say his entire name when you say it because that’s what the comic does when he’s mentioned. Atar Gull is present, but strangely he’s more in the background of the story until the very end. Again, the story humanizes the villains. Showing how they got to this point in their life in which they feel being a slave trader, pirate and plantation owner is an okay thing. It makes Atar Gull’s revenge all the sweater.
The only problem I had with the entire story was the ending. It was predictable and just deflating. The problem is that the way the story is structured and built, it couldn’t end any other way. Of course, I’m not going to spoil it, but it just wasn’t nearly as impactful as the rest of the story. The writing otherwise was powerful and compelling to read. It didn’t glorify slavery in the least bit and showed the human cost. It could have been harder and more gruesome in showing this, but then the message would have been lost in the shock and awe. Any decent human being should be shocked enough by the contents of the story.
The art is the star of the book. It’s a brilliant style that reminded me a lot of another artist but in a cleaner more mature way. I won’t say which artist because then it’ll be as if I’m putting that artist down and I’ve already towed that line this today. The linework is clean, detailed and yet styled in a way that isn’t realistic. It looks a lot like earlier action and drama comic strips. Comic strips before becoming just one to three-panel gags were full of amazing art and grand adventures. Atar Gull reminded me a lot of this style, but with brilliant coloring accompanying it. The coloring is flat but vibrant; it also never overtakes the pencil and ink work, which is saying a lot. There are so many subtle details that could have been blown out by the coloring.
The ending is the only reason I’m knocking a point of the story. I’m not here to offer an opinion on how it could be better; instead just to say that it wasn’t a satisfactory ending. It didn’t leave me satisfied after having an engaging reading experience. I would still recommend checking it out as it’s coming to North America from Europe Comics for the first time at the 2017 New York Comic Con. If you can’t wait for the print, you can head over to Izneo and read it now as well. If you want a better reading experience, skip the last two pages. If it had ended there, it would have gotten a perfect score.
Atar Gull or The Tale of the Model Slave
Writer: Fabien Nury
Colorist: Laurence Criox
Publisher: Europe Comics