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Jean van Hamme: A Primer

Jean Van Hamme

R.M. Rhodes, comic creator and friend of French comics, returns to introduce the uninitiated to another classic creator…

Jean van Hamme is a best-selling writer of French comics and has been since the late 70s. His first really popular series was Thorgal, with artist Grzegorz Rosinski. This viking tale wavered between realism, an explicitly science fictional backstory and an even more explicit fantastical element that derived from traditional Scandanavian mythology. More lush than Northlanders, but just as unflinching about the viking culture. The art is beautiful, bearing some notional relation to Jean Giraud‘s work on Blueberry.

van Hamme’s second major series was XIII, a spy thriller based in part on the premise of The Bourne Identity. Val Kilmer and Steven Dorff starred in the television mini-series that was made in 2008. The artist, William Vance, is not particularly memorable either, but the story is compelling enough to capture a wide audience.

[ad#longpost]The last major series by van Hamme to be translated into English is Largo Winch, a thriller set in the world of industrial finance. Like Thorgal and XIII, Largo Winch is published in English by Cinebook. There are several volumes of each series in print, which means that you’ll have something to look forward to if you like what you try.

Despite the fact that van Hamme’s works have consistently been best-sellers, he is often held up as the embodiment of the evils of mainstream French comics. This is especially appropriate when you consider that his best sellers have been published by four different publishers. In many ways, he really is commercial French comics.

van Hamme’s lack of artistic and critical regard (at least, among independent creators) is interesting to an outside observer, inasmuch as it illustrates the fact that the French comics market is neither homogenous nor harmonious. This is not the most bitter or recent conflict of opinion, but it is one of the easiest to recognize. Commercial success doesn’t always equate to critical success – regardless of language.

For more from R.M. Rhodes check out his website at Oletheros Publishing.

From 'Thorgal'

XIII: La Version Irlandaise
From the cover to 'XIII: The Irish Version,' which had art from Giraud

Largo Winch: Takeover Bid
From the cover to 'Largo Winch: Takeover Bid.'