Marie Antoinette: Phantom Queen (NBM)

68 pgs full color | $18.99 hardcover, $9.99 e-book | W: Rodolphe and Annie Goetzinger, A: Annie Goetzinger

In August of 1901, two English women wandering the Garden of the Petit Trianon swear they stumbled upon the ghost of Marie Antoinette, the infamous French queen whose reign helped spark the French Revolution. Writer Rodolphe and the late Annie Goetzinger took this apocryphal story as a springboard, not to tell the tale of the two English ladies, but to imagine a much more satisfying ghost story.

Set in 1934, this tale follows Maud, a painter of some skill who has visited the Garden of the Petit Trianon to paint landscapes. Maud, a recent widow, is pursued by Remy, her stepson, whose behavior seems primarily motivated by getting his hands on the riches his father bequeathed solely to his late wife. Maud is also haunted by nightmares, half-remembered journeys to a time gone by. Some of her high society friends invite her to a séance as a lark, but things take a turn when Maud becomes possessed and a spirit from her dreams bursts forth—Marie Antoinette herself. Our heroine continues her life with the Queen’s ghost by her side, having conversations with a specter only she can see. The Phantom Queen shares her life story and her desire to be interred at the Garden and thus be set free from her curse to walk the earth. Remy, his hopes to marry his former stepmother rebuffed, tries to have her committed to an asylum to gain his father’s estate. And if that doesn’t work, there are other ways to get his hands on that inheritance…

French comics excel at the graphic novella format, self-contained stories that play out at enough of a length to fully develop their characters and world and plumb their dramatic depths, yet short enough to devour in one sitting should one choose to. Rodolphe and Goetzinger have much experience in the format, having previously created works like Colette (the basis for the recent Keira Knightly film) and Girl in Dior in just slightly lengthier tomes. At 68 pages, Marie Antoinette: Phantom Queen is a fairly brisk read. It’s tightly plotted, and though very little about it is unpredictable, it works because of the concentration on character. Maud and Marie are well fleshed out, with unique personality quirks and well defined motivations that get you invested in their story and carry you through to the end. Remy, for his part, is more of a cartoon character, his motivations over-the-top and a bit less developed. This choice, however, helps keep the focus on the women, instead using his character to punctuate the action with inciting incidents that push the story toward its final act.

Goetzinger takes full advantage of the larger format favored by French comics, using large panels that give each scene a strong setting while still averaging six to eight panels per page for maximum plot content. Her sense of visual pacing makes these pages a breeze to read, and her character work is packed with personality. What really sets this book apart, though, are the colors, lush watercolors that are a feast for the eyes and firmly establish the book’s autumnal setting.

Marie Antoinette: Phantom Queen is perfect lazy Sunday afternoon reading, with characters worth going on a journey with and a setting worth getting lost in, all captured with rich illustrations that are a feast for the eyes and a plot that is predictable but still impactful that breezes by in about an hour’s time. | Jason Green

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