Sunday, February 26, 2023

Slava: After the Fall—Graphic Novel

Russians have had to hustle to survive for over a century now. The grizzled old miner Volodya will be the first to admit it. However, doing black market business was never considered anything to admire. The two slicksters who come to town looking for a big score have different, Yeltsin-era values. However, the miners hope to use the sleazy Lavrin and his somewhat naïve protégé in Pierre-Henry Gomont’s French graphic novel Slava: After the Fall, which is now available in ebook formats.

Lavrin thinks he a real mover-and-shaker, but most of the deals he pulls off involve scavenged fixtures from grand old Soviet palaces of Communism. That is why he dragged Slava out to the remote Russian Caucasian mining town. However, the weather is rougher than they anticipated, as are the thugs who have the jump on them.

If it weren’t for Nina and her grandfather, Volodya, this would have been the end for them. For his part, Slava is stupid-staggered by his crush on Nina, but Lavrin does not do gratitude well. He still wants those fixtures and he does not even bother hiding his admiration for the oligarch planning to buy and plunder the town’s mine. However, Nina and Volodya have a different plan. Before the mine is auctioned, they want Lavrin and Slava to sell the mine’s newest equipment on the black market, so they can outbid the oligarch and keep the miners employed using the older, still serviceable machinery.

It is indeed a clever plan. If more communities had been as adaptable, Russia’s post-Communism history might have been very different. Of course, there are complications, mostly involving flaky Lavrin. Despite their cynical attitude towards Yeltsin’s privatizations, Gomont’s characters have little nostalgia for Communism, except maybe Nina, who grew up listening to the miners’ propaganda songs.

Regardless, Morkhov, the fictional rival oligarch, is cut from the same cloth as “Putin’s wallets.” The kind of travesty Nina and Volodya are trying to avoid happened quite a bit and paved the way for Putin’s anti-American regime and its war crimes in Ukraine. Clearly, current events have added extra bite to Gomont’s wistfully ironic tale.

His art also serves the story quite well. Gomont’s clean lines do justice to the hulking Communist-era architectural behemoths and the muted pastel colors perfectly recreate the austere mountain landscapes. Wisely, Europe Comics did not translate some of his onomatopoetic dialogue bubbles, keeping the colorful original Cyrillic exclamations.

is smart, sad, and deeply cutting. It addresses late 20th Century history in a way that is both sophisticated and accessible. The art is also quite stylish. Highly recommended, Slava: After the Fall is now available digitally.