“Bandette” is like a delicious croissant. Light and airy, it dares you to put it aside and walk away. Before you know what has happened, the thing is gone. Only a memory remains. As the day goes on, your nostalgia for that delectable morsel grows more intense.
Now, that is some croissant!
Well, Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover’s “Bandette” is something quite special and too uncommon a thing. It is a book born of the desire to bring joy more than anything and it certainly accomplishes that. Tobin and Coover are unfettered by the constraints of mainstream demands and thus take pleasure in the freedoms afforded them.
Bandette is a French teenage cat burglar with a bright red wig and matching dress, who steals from despicable men so that she may return rare treasures to their proper home (and sometimes to her own home). The book opens with Bandette gleefully charging through the mansion of her next victim, making little effort to be quiet or to conceal herself. I mean, her getup is really red. Straightaway, Coover provides impressive images with beautiful and simple ink wash lines that blend so beautifully with Tobin’s fanciful script. Bandette, successful in her thievery, is soon pursued by armed guards:
Bandette: Bullets? How rude! Were they not beguiled by my adorable outfit? My charming wit?
We rarely get more than a brief glimpse of Maxime Blouffe, Bandette’s true persona, but you get the sense that the two are one and the charming same. In truth, Bandette is something of an anti-heroine who may have a hard time restraining her urge to steal, but is also at the immediate service of the local police inspector. Alas, Bandette is a source of consternation for the chronically perturbed Inspector Belgique; he begrudgingly calls on the young woman when he’s out of options. When needed, Bandette and her small army of street urchins are on hand to quash the plots of the more dangerous criminal element of Paris.
Once the characters are introduced, Tobin and Coover unfold their story. An older cat burglar known as Monsieur has been called upon by a mysterious woman to steal some incredibly rare items. As he is doing so, Monsieur comes across a plot to by the crime-boss Absinthe to have Bandette murdered for her continued foiling of Absinthe’s wrongdoings. Though Bandette and Monsieur are rival burglars, Monsieur seeks the young lawbreaker out to warn her about the bounty she has on her coiffure. “Bandette” is straightforward and simple, allowing Tobin and Coover space to create the beautiful and lively world in which their spirited characters reside.
Tobin fills the script with chases across the streets of Paris, a number or grand larcenies, leaping to safety and leaping into trouble, speedy costume changes, and graveyard battles. Coover rises to each occasion to invigorate Tobin’s already merry material. The artist’s style has a 1960s retro sensibility and her character work is cartoonlike and energetic. The expressions and body language of Coover’s characters seem effortless, but her work is exceptionally thoughtful. Each character’s reaction, whether surprised, elated, bored, angry, or any number of other emotional states, is masterfully communicated by Coover to suit Tobin’s script.
Tobin and Coover draw their inspiration from European comics, but there are some qualities that were reminiscent of the type of animated superhero series that Hanna-Barbera would produce in the late 1960s and 1970s (like “The Impossibles” or “Blue Falcon and Dynomutt”). For example, a villain dressed as a matador whose name is (what else?) the Matador, replete with sword and red muleta.
Coover utilizes a gorgeous watercolor style to complete the artwork, using brushes of color to flesh out the backgrounds and add dimension to the characters. Much of Bandette takes place during the daytime, but even when it doesn’t, Coover’s palette remains bright to fit the material. The trade includes a fascinating section that takes us from Coover’s rough layouts through the coloring of the final work.
This first volume also includes a number of fun short stories, ranging from two to three pages, featuring the supporting cast of “Bandette”. Bandette’s canine Pimento, Monsieur, Inspector Belgique, and others all get a quick snapshot into their own lives in tales written by Tobin with art by Jennifer L. Meyer, Tina Kim, Steve Lieber, and others. The stories are gorgeously illustrated and keep well in line with the tone Tobin and Coover establish in the main book.
“Bandette” is a perfect book to fill the time between the weightier stories that tend to be on all of our reading lists. But don’t mistake its lightness to mean that this is not a satisfying read. No, “Bandette” is indeed satisfying. And don’t be surprised when you catch yourself smiling a day later, or perhaps a week, because you couldn’t get that uninhibited young woman with the crimson wig out of your head.
Written by: Paul Tobin
Art: Colleen Coover
Publisher: Monkeybrain Comics
Original Publication Date: July 2012
Pages: 144 pages