Story and Dialogue – Bertrand Galic and Kris
Illustration and Colors – Damien Cuvillier
“Nuit Noire sur Brest” is a departure from the other comics I have reviewed so far in several ways. First, it’s not about airplanes but a submarine. In addition, all the other bande dessinée albums I have reviewed were published by Paquet but “Nuit Noire sur Brest” is published by Futurpolis. Furthermore, the story is presented as a one-shot and is contained in a single album as opposed to the other stories so far which have been serialized over three or four books. In addition, “Nuit Noire sur Brest” violates the usual format for bande dessinée albums with a hefty total of 66 pages, as opposed to the standard of 48.
Although my main passion is French history and culture, this BD caught my attention because I also have an interest in the Spanish Civil War. “Nuit Noire sur Brest” tells the story of the Spanish submarine C-2 and is based on the book “Nuit Franquiste sur Brest” by Patrick Gourlay. Gourlay also wrote an extensive post-face for the album which includes lots of contemporary photographs, a thorough discussion of the political atmosphere in 1937, and a description of the aftermath of the C-2 affair.
The submarine C-2 appeared unannounced in the port of Brest in September 1937 after experiencing a technical problem. The submarine’s arrival was politically sensitive because France had declared it would not intervene in the Spanish Civil War. “Nuit Noir sur Brest” follows the actions of X-10, a shadowy secret agent who supports the Spanish Republicans. X-10 investigates a plot by Franco’s agents and their conservative French allies to capture C-2.
However, the writing can be a little cliché at times. For example X-10 declares that “personne ne me connait” (nobody knows me) and “je suis le pêcheur en eaux troubles” (I am a fisher in troubled waters).
Damien Cuvillier’s art is more engaging. He uses watercolors for the sky and utilizes thematic colors in several scenes. For example, each case (image) that depicts a scene at l’Ermitage, a red-light dancing hall in Brest, is tinted in red. Scenes occurring in the interior of the C-2 submarine are viewed through a greenish-yellow filter. In addition, Cuvillier utilizes a plongée (high-angle) shot to emphasize the hustle and bustle of the dancing hall.
Unfortunately, my complaint about the male gaze in Paquet’s “Cockpit” series remains true for “Nuit Noir sur Brest” as well. The cast of characters is almost entirely male, and the only female character, Mingua, is a dancer at the l’Ermitage with little agency. She amounts to little more than a pawn and seductress.
Overall, I found “Nuit Noir sur Brest” to be an intriguing and refreshing break from the “Cockpit” series. The dialogue can be clichéd at times, but the art is engaging and Gourlay’s post-face helps this little-known incident come alive.