Title: District 14
Words: Pierre Gabus
Art: Romuald Reutimann
Review by John Anderson
District 14 is a tale of gangsters, newshounds, and costumed vigilantes in a dreamlike early twentieth century New York inhabited by humans, animals, and extraterrestrials.
The protagonist is an elephant whom we meet as he is going through immigration. He is given the name “Michael” because the official can’t pronounce his real name. After meeting Hector, a beaver who works as a journalist for a big newspaper, they start working together to uncover some of the city’s biggest stories, including the attempted kidnapping of a politician and the history of the popular caped crime fighter Tigerman. But it soon becomes clear that Michael is hiding more than one secret. In fact, every character is hiding something.
Right from the beginning, when Michael suddenly switches to English and punches an immigration officer, revealing that he is not the new immigrant he appeared to be, I knew I was in for something special. When Hector helps Michael into his new apartment on the 116th floor of a skyscraper, there is a wonderful dreamlike sequence as they have to navigate a series of scaffolds and broken bridges on the outside of the building. Then once they reach the apartment, they are met by Buster, a horse in a checkered suit who encourages them to “memberize” and pay “the acclimation fees” in “da brudderhood of the friends of the upper tower”, so that all members can “prosperate”. And Michael’s new neighbour is a little alien from the planet Braxzzl who is really good at dice. Gangster noir, dreamlike weirdness and colourful characters combine to make this a very entertaining book.
The black and white style of District 14 makes it reminiscent of 30s and 40s comics like Little Orphan Annie. The feeling put into the characters made me forget I was looking at animals and I soon thought of them as people. I was especially touched by Hector’s anguish over his dead wife. I also love the little gangster tadpoles.
I was not previously familiar with Gabus and Reutimann’s work, but I’m very happy that Humanoids is publishing this celebrated and award-winning series in English. It makes a nice change from the mystical science fiction of some of their other recent titles, and it shows just how varied European comics can be. This book is billed as “Season 1”, and there are loose ends still to be tied up, and lots of room for more stories. Season 2 has been published in French, and I hope Humanoids releases it in English soon.