When we think of Anarchism in the world of comics (or graphic novels, whichever you prefer), we often turn to Alan Moore’s “V for Vendetta” and tales of attempts to overthrow those in power due to corruption, however, theres actually alot more to the ideals behind anarchism than explosions, aggression and sticking ones finger up at politicians and its this other side that Nicolas Debon tries to teach us as he tells of the true story of Fortune Henry and the colony of L’Essai he founded, for a brief period of time, in the early 1900’s before the world fell into chaos as the Great War fell upon us.
The book opens with a man taking ownership of a plot of land, thought to be inhabitable and unworkable, he begins to transform it. The locals treat him with suspicion, often talking of the devil or wild man in the woods. But before long a small handful of people begin to take an interest in what he is doing and ultimately join him, as the colony grows, the workload also increases, they build settlements, work the land and sell produce at local markets.
However, its not enough for Henry, he strives for change, people believe in what they feel he is trying to do and his ideals of breaking down social constructs, promoting communism (or socialism, though its definetly the former that he says he is trying to bring to fruition, even to the extent of his first born having “no known parents” on his birth certificate as he “belongs to the colony”). He sets up a printing press, first selling flyers to promote the colony and the ideals it was founded upon, though as ever with such things he begins to take ownership, of his responsibility within the colony and also of his partner, acting jealous when she is around other men and resorting to violence when she questions his motives.
As his message spreads, his views become more damaging to the establishment and he is ultimately imprisoned, once free he finds that, without him, L’Essai has fallen apart and the colonists have moved on.
At around 80 pages, this is a short tale, covering the basics, additional information about Fortune Henry is provided at the back of the book, but you’re given a sort of one sided, almost diary like telling of the foundation and falling of L’Essai, albeit told alongside some beautiful art work that looks hand-painted, the earthy tones used give the impression of the book being hand-crafted and fit in perfectly with both the tale being told and the time period it is taken from and Debon does a wonderful job of just allowing the story to work towards its natural end, picking the exact moments to tell, be it the work and turmoil the colonists go through as the seasons and years progress, or the emotional challenges Henry faces. We’re never forced to endure anything particularly long, instead being given a snippet of the tale of L’Essai told in simple panels, though when Debon does give us a full page panel its always a wonderful piece of art work.
That said, this isn’t for every one. I can easily see people wanting some real history feeling like there’s not enough here, likewise, there’s not alot of incident or action to speak of to excite, its not that kind of tale. But if you want to read something that tells a true story that you hadn’t known of, The Colony will fit that brief absolutely perfectly.