Monday, 23 May 2016

The Curse of the 30 Pieces of Silver

Blake and Mortimer were created by one time Tintin artist, Edgar P. Jacobs, who, on asking Hergé for a credit (he worked on several Tintin albums, including The Secret of the Unicorn and Prisoners of the Sun), found their partnership over. Not one to mope, Jacobs launched his own cartoon, which in 1950, debuted in the Tintin magazine. The two Brits, Francis Blake, head of MI6, and Professor Philip Mortimer, had adventures and solved mysteries, much in the style of Hergé’s books, but with less humour and more labyrinthine plots. 

Hergé felt his characters could not be brought to life without him, and stipulated in his will that there could be no more new Tintin adventures. Jacobs made no such demands, and since his death in 1987, Blake and Mortimer have appeared in some 11 new adventures. Artists like Ted Beniot and André Juillard, fine French exponents of the Ligne Clare, have helped to breath new life into the two gentlemen.

The curse of the 30 pieces of silver is a two part story, so I suggest you buy both at the same time, to avoid being left on a cliff hanger, while you wait to find part 2. As its title suggests, it deals with the new testament story of Judas’ betrayal of Christ, and the 30 pieces of silver that he was paid by the sanhedrin. A mysterious letter from the curator of a museum in Athens sends Mortimer to Greece, and starts a wonderful chain of plots and sub-plots, delving into early Christian history, Nazism and swashbuckling adventure, and, almost inevitably, ending with a subterranean gun fight.

Writer Jean Van Hamme has tried not to discredit the Christian story, coming up with a plausible reason to deviate from Christian tradition, although it does not bare close scrutiny. At the end of the book, the whole affair is hushed up by the Greek Archbishop, the evidence stored away with other manuscripts that contradicted the official version of Christianity. Mortimer is a man of science, and believes that every unexplained event, including religious ones, have a rational explanation.

The story is well researched, and the traditions of the early Christian church and the later Greek Orthodox Church have been faithfully portrayed.

Artists René Sterne/Chantal de Spiegeleer, Antoine Aubin/Etienne Schreder are accomplished illustrators, the artwork of the highest standard. The colour is not flat, but more subtle, with depth and shading and fine details. I don’t know if digital media or traditional materials have been used, but it certainly has a wonderful attention to detail.

Look out for the nice Tintin tribute in the first book - I’ll say no more than that, so you can enjoy discovering it! It might be that there are more than the one I spotted, but, regardless of that, Tintin casts a heavy shadow across many of these books, but never to their detriment. 

I bought my copies from Foyles in London for £7.99 each, while Amazon sell them for much more. It might be that Amazon is only selling the hard back edition, but Foyles has a nice selection of Bande Dessine books, worth a browse if you are passing.