By Oliver Gerlach
Scarlet Rose is an ongoing French series of comics, currently ten years into its run, but only newly available in English. Apparently very successful in France, it’s something of a shame that it’s taken so long to make it over here. It’s a thrilling child-friendly historical adventure about a girl, her sword, and her obsession with a highwayman known as The Fox.
Set in an ambiguous (and, sadly, never specified) period of history, at a rough guess the 18th century, in France, this is a fairly predictable story of a girl who just wants to swordfight instead of getting married. It’s not trying to do anything unique and special with the plot, which leaves the creators free to focus on the basics. Fortunately, those basis are very good. As a whole, it’s perhaps a little too reminiscent of Tony Cliff’s excellent Delilah Dirk books, but that’s a niche in the market that can take multiple occupants, and besides, the French version of Scarlet Rose is several years older than Delilah Dirk. It’s a coincidence of premise, but that’s fine; it’s a good, fun, premise, and one I’m always pleased to see.
Charmz, the publisher, claim to publish “romance-focused fiction for tween girls”, and, while that’s not an entirely inaccurate description of Scarlet Rose, it’s also not perfect. This isn’t really “romance focused” so much as it is “romance adjacent”; the swordfighting and highway robbery are the core of the book, while romance is something to be avoided. Later on in the book this may well change substantially, but I certainly found the adventure to be the more compelling and prominent aspect of the story.
The art is highly manga-influenced, as seems to be the house style for pretty much everything Charmz publish. While I think it’s a bit of a shame that the only indie comics available for younger girls have this art style, the style is no bad thing in itself. It’s the lack of variety in the field I object to, rather than the direct stylistic choice. As I said earlier, this isn’t trying to do anything unique or push any boundaries in any way. Lyfoung’s art, though, is expressive and clear, conveying both the action and the sense of place effectively. She’s a very good storyteller, and I’d be interested to see how her work develops in later volumes.
Ogaki’s colours are also notable; he uses a beautiful range of smooth gradients and bright colour choices to bring 18th century France to life in an idealised, almost fairytale style. I wouldn’t for a moment imagine that the period really looked like this, but it sells it as a home for grand adventure and romance very effectively.
All in all, I would happily recommend this to any girl aged between about 9 and 14. It may not be doing anything particularly exciting, but it does what it does very effectively. It’s a lot of fun, and I can’t see how anyone could fail to enjoy it.
Justice Scarlet Rose #1
Writers: Patricia Lyfoung
Artists: Patricia Lyfoung
Colours: Philippe Ogaki
Translation: Joe Johnson