Writer/Artist: Frederick Peeters
Release Date: Volumes 1-3 on sale now, volume 4 on sale Sept 2015
With the fourth and final volume of Frederik Peeters’ award-winning AAMA graphic novel series due to go on sale later this month, I decided that now would be a perfect time for me to take a look at the series as a whole, sharing my thoughts on what has been a fairly wild ride, to say the least.
The story here revolves around Verloc Nim, an estranged father and addict who finds himself accompanying his brother Conrad and his crew on an expedition to the desert planet of Ona(ji). Their mission is to investigate the status of a group of scientists who have been working on a mysterious evolutionary experiment called AAMA, but as they reach their destination, things rapidly spiral out of control as AAMA’s effects spread rapidly, transforming the surface of the planet into a surreally beautiful – yet deceptively dangerous – landscape.
The story is told – in the early stages, at least – from the perspective of a confused, amnesiac Verloc reading back his own notes about the chaotic events which have already transpired, with the reader flicking back and forth between the present and the recent past. This framing device works extremely well in the first three volumes, creating a bond of shared confusion between us and Verloc as we struggle to piece the increasingly surreal and contradictory events together into something vaguely resembling the truth.
The visual aspect of the series is truly top notch, with a technically straightforward yet undeniably expressive style employed by Peeters throughout. There’s a deceptive simplicity to his approach which belies the true extent of his storytelling abilities, and the creativity and flat-out weirdness of his creatures and backdrops give the series an unmistakable essence of boundary-pushing sci-fi adventure.
The hallucinatory landscapes become more and more abstract over the course of the story as Verloc and the rest of the crew gradually close in on AAMA, with Peeters’ ‘out there’ creature design becoming weirder and weirder right along with it. While the first two volumes are relatively sedate, things start to pick up significantly during the third, with the fourth pushing things to the extreme, at times resembling a frantic psychedelic fever dream… in a good way.
Somehow managing to be both high concept and relatable at the same time, Peeters’ narrative ebbs and flows as the story dictates, slowing down for some deeply emotional beats before lurching forward with some stunningly disorientating set-pieces. Particularly during the fourth volume however, his visuals occasionally veer a little too far into wild, psychedelic expressionism for my personal tastes, but the emotion and sense of wide-eyed wonder which Peeters’ double-page spreads evoke is undeniable
While some readers may potentially be put off by the abstract concepts and dizzying visuals of this series, there’s no denying the fact that AAMA is a truly engaging dose of quintessentially European sci-fi. While some of the concepts are a little wild, the beating heart of the story is one we can all relate to, and – thankfully – this isn’t a tale which needs to be fully understood in order to be fully appreciated.
Minor niggles aside however, this is nothing short of sublime storytelling, and even though it can be a more than a little disorientating at times, Peeters should be applauded for this truly inventive fable about the world of science, the dangerous power of evolution and the intense, almost primal bonds of family.
INTERIOR ARTWORK FROM ALL FOUR VOLUMES
[Click to Enlarge]