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The Theory of the Grain of Sand (Obscure Cities) Paperback – December 6, 2016
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About the Author
Benoît Peeters was born in Paris on August 28, 1956. After publishing two novels early in his career, he experimented with diverse genres: essay, biography, illustrated story, photo novel, film, television, radio theater and of course comics.
An Hergé specialist, he has written three books to date on the subject: The World of Hergé, Hergé, Son of Tintin, and Read Tintin. He is also the author of several books on comics, storyboards and biographical studies on Hitchcock, Nadar, Jacques Derrida and Paul Valéry.
François Schuiten was born in Brussels on April 26, 1956, into a family of architects.
Early in his career, he created two graphic novels with Claude Renard, Cymbiola and Rail. Then with his brother Luc, he created three graphic novels in the Hollow Grounds series. Since 1980, he has worked with Benoît Peeters on The Obscure Cities series. His graphic novels have been translated into a dozen languages and have received numerous international awards. He has also created many illustrations, posters and postage stamps across Europe.
In 2002, he received the prestigious lifetime achievement award from the Angouleme festival. He published his first solo effort, The Beauty, in 2012, and designed a train museum, Train World, which opened in Brussels in 2015. His 2014 exhibition and accompanying book, Revoir Paris, has met with international praise.
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This also makes clear that Brusel lives in a world some distance from our own, along an axis not normally accessible. The contact between Brusel and our own Brussels does little more than show that they're different, but the difference remains elusive. And, for the first time I recognize, there's continuity between The Leaning Girl (no longer leaning) and this volume.
This is for thinking readers. There's little action, no bam-pow, but a thoroughly convincing tale of the impossible, and of how real people really deal with such dilemmas. As often as I can find books in this series, I'll be back for more.
Schuiten's illustrations are, as always, gorgeous. If you have never heard of him, you owe it to yourself to at least Google his name. The book uses a genius black-on-beige color scheme, with white being used to highlight the exceptional phenomena. It's hard to explain in words, but the final effect is truly striking.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the story, this is not the strongest volume in the series. Without giving too much away, central to this book is a cultural clash with a clear analogue in our world. The clash is ultimately resolved, but the resolution feels a little too tidy, and the analogy seems a little too simplistic. Additionally, some elements feel a little self-indulgent; Schuiten and Peeters wrote the Victor Horta house they were restoring into the story, and imply that it was transplanted to our world from this fictional universe. The Theory of the Grain of Sand is the ninth volume in the series, and after all their previous works, the authors have definitely earned the right to be a bit indulgent. If this is only your first or second book in the series, though, it will probably feel excessive.
The translation is really quite good. As with any translated work, there are a few lines that seem somewhat clunky, but the overall quality of the script is miles beyond most of the old Humanoids books I own. The book is also made with high-quality materials: the tri-tone printing is well done, the paper is a nice glossy stock, and the cover is striking. An aside: I opened the shipping envelope in front of my non-comics-reading friend, and he was immediately blown away by the size of the book and the artistic matte cover. This would be a good coffee table book.
I feel like I've spent too much time talking about my reservations, so, to reiterate: this is a very good story. It is probably my favorite comic from the last year. It comes highly recommended from me.