I’m going to break editorial kayfabe and reveal that Marie Antoinette Phantom Queen has been up for review for as long as I’ve been writing for this website.
Every week when I’d sign up for which release I’d review, this book would be nestle towards the bottom of our column reserved for only the most indie of indie comic books. Days went by, and it was there, then weeks and same result.
Then one day I threw myself into the pile of very indie titles and found this beautifully drawn, wonderfully colored comic. I couldn’t believe this had gone untouched for so long, that this went un-reviewed. I made a vow that when I had a week with fewer reviews going on, I’d read this one.
Now that I’ve read this book, I can tell you why this wasn’t talked about for so long. The answer is that, well, it’s French.
European comics took a stylistic turn away from the rest of Western comics at some point in history. They moved away from narrative, moved away from dialog and character and became more about the presentation of art and its visual juxtaposition of ideas.
Marie Antoinette Phantom Queen reads like a pastoral daydream. The line work is immaculate, the colors so soft and war they’re almost like watercolors. When a page portrays a rolling landscape or pristine neo-classical structure, the image could be enlarged and placed on a wall in a museum.
Despite being enthralled by the art, I could never stop being tripped up by the narrative. Here we follow a painter in the 1930s as she inadvertently becomes the spiritual medium for the ghost of Marie Antoinette. The art so strongly captures each period in vivid detail with particular attention to capturing the beauty of the settings’ styles of dress and with colors that provide this rich texture I’ve never quite seen in other comics.
The story’s pacing moves at a rhythm I could never match. Some scenes felt like they moved through too quickly or with too little connective tissue. Then while there is a horror and tension to Marie Antoinette’s history and imprisonment during the French Revolution, I kept expecting a sharper and harsher visual edge that I never found. The present story of the painter moves at a much more docile pace where events that should cause drama ended up sorting itself out. The internal narrative structure never matched my expectations. When I expected a scene to linger, to indulge in a character moment it was already over, but then when a scene might have traditionally been simply quick exposition connective filler, the pages waited here a little longer. Marie Antoinette Phantom Queen was a story that never match that narrative formula of Western comics but not in a way that challenged it but rather just different.
Here the narrative presents two different women who are turned victims of circumstance by simply existing as women in restrictive periods. Marie Antoinette was tortured, executed and desecrated for simply being born into her life—a life where she had no say or influence on political systems of royal France.
While in the 1930s, Maud becomes the target for her deceased husband’s son as he tries to steal her inheritance. Both women end up helping each other, but the story never has the sharp dramatic beats I expect. Maud’s former step-son tries to institutionalize her, but every effort comically fails, Maud has to find Marie Antoinette’s true remains but doing so turns out to be relatively easy due to her ghost friend’s powers.
There’s still a delight in this story. Maud and Marie Antoinette build a charming and beautiful friendship, and the story’s closest thing to a villain is legitimately funny as everyone one of his attempts at ruining Maud’s life fails. This could be a story that lingered on the cruelty of history especially towards women but instead focuses its content to empower.
I can’t blame a comic, however, for not doing something it isn’t trying to do. Marie Antoinette Phantom Queen invites you a fantastical, lazy afternoon story—one you might read on a porch overlooking a field or read over a cup of tea on a quiet rainy morning. This is a story you breathe in slowly rather consume, a story that’s beautiful and funny and moves at a pace you discover rather than one tied to a formula. Most importantly, however, a story that takes a tragic history and forces us to remember and engage with it so that we can create a better future.
[su_box title="Score: 4/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]
Marie Antoinette Phantom Queen
Writers: Rudolphe & Annie Goetzinger
Artist: Annie Goetzinger
Publisher: NBM Publishing
Price: $17.99 (Print); $9.99 (Digital)
Format: Hardcover; Print/Digital