“The Golden Age” by Cyril Pedrosa & Roxanne Moreil

The Golden Age is a multi-part graphic novel written by Roxanne Moreil and Cyril Pedrosa, and illustrated by Pedrosa. The story concerns Tilda, daughter and heir apparent to the recently departed king, who on the eve of her coronation is dramatically usurped by her younger brother (himself a child), in league with the Machiavellian Lord Vaudémont. On route to exile, she is rescued by the loyal knight Tankred and childhood friend Bertil, who help her escape into the forest, where they eventually happen across a community of warrior-scholar women. And that, essentially – without more spoilers – is the set-up to part 1.

However, in addition to the medieval political intrigue, there are other elements which give the story a more unique flavour, and tantalise what is to come in later parts. First, there is a mystical or supernatural element: the forest into which Tilda and her companions have escaped is rumoured to be cursed and haunted by fairies and other weird beings, and Tilda herself seems to succumb to bizarre visions whilst there. The second distinguishing element is philosophical: the community of women warrior-scholars debate the nature of society – calling to mind the old philosophical disputes found in Locke, Rousseau and Hobbes about whether society must take its current form, or whether a more idealised ‘Golden Age’ is possible (the title of the story itself is also shared by a mythical book whose existence is rumoured). As such, The Golden Age promises more than a well-crafted medieval political story of adventure and romance, but also a speculative exploration of feminist, political and philosophical themes.

The intriguing and well-written narrative is complemented and augmented by Pedrosa’s wonderful art. Pedrosa’s style is whimsical and full of quirky beauty, whether he is crafting lush and detailed natural backdrops or depicting the social gamut of characters that people the story’s world. The method used to produce the art is itself interesting (especially to an illustrator such as myself), and it’s worth spending a little time here exploring it.

Pedrosa first produces all the artwork in black and white, using traditional ink on paper, which is then scanned and coloured digitally. This in itself isn’t unusual now – I am reminded especially of Yuko Shimizu – but Pedrosa’s manner of doing this is quite distinctive. Firstly, as the original images are black on white, there is little tonal range – the black is not diluted in any way to produce gradations or shades – and so the resulting images are quite flat. But these black lines are then coloured in such a way that often transforms them from the original in surprising ways – in fact, as the impressionists would themselves no doubt have approved of, there is almost no actual black in the book (aside from text maybe). And so, a black line can be inverted, a white space take on a dark colour, and in some cases this produces quite startling and beautiful results. For instance:

If I’m honest, this doesn’t always work, and occasionally, with some high-contrast and unusual colour choices, it can be difficult initially to work out what’s going on:

Or sometimes the colour choices provide a lack of contrast – for instance:

However, that said, such examples are relatively infrequent, and the odd less-than-successful experiment is a price worth paying for the outstanding beauty of the rest of the book, where it’s clear that there is always an attempt to use colour expressively. As a result, some pages are deeply moody and beautifully atmospheric:

While others are delightfully subtle:

Actually, the above page shows two additional techniques that offset the flat colourisation: the occasional use of digital layers to add shadow and depth (as in the shadow of the window panes on Tilda’s blanket), and the use of digital patterns (on the blanket itself). The latter technique, also sometimes used on clothes and carpets, etc, are applied flatly (where the pattern is not contoured to the object, but runs through the lines, so to speak), thereby providing another instance of the obvious influence of Japanese art. Both techniques are apparent in this delightful page:

On the whole, therefore, as well as setting a very high standard in terms of storytelling, The Golden Age is a visual joy, and I very much look forward to reading future instalments.

You also might want to check out the following two short videos: an interview with Pedrosa and Moreil, and a fascinating insight into Pedrosa’s technique.

[Disclaimer: This review was based on a complimentary PDF edition supplied by the publisher. All images from the book are used with the permission of Europe Comics. Thanks also to Galerie du 9ème Art in Paris for permission to use the image of the black and white original artwork from their website (where originals by Pedrosa and many other great comic artists are available for sale.)]

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Gareth Southwell is a philosopher, writer and illustrator from the UK. He is the author of the near-future sci-fi novel MUNKi, which concerns robots, the hunt for the Technological Singularity, and people swearing in Welsh.

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