Mining A New Vein
Tripwire’s contributing writer Tim Hayes casts his eye over Oni Press’ Titan by François Vigneault, out now…
Writer/ Artist: François Vigneault
Comics set in space can use the location for action or for depth of characterisation under stress, but not usually for both of those at the same time in the way that François Vigneault’s Titan does. Comics are more comfortable with politically left of centre stories than some other arts too – certainly more than modern movies, where even the science fiction has drifted in the other direction – and Titan is an authentic leftist graphic novel with observations to make about managers and workers and the industrial society, while still involving high-tech weaponry and exotic lakes of methane, plus some eye-gauging violence and one fully explicit sequence of hardcore sex.
The setting is a mining colony on Saturn’s moon in the 2190s, where normal humans make up the managerial ranks but the heavy labour is done by genetically modified giant humanoids known as Titans. A new manager, Joao, arrives from Earth to investigate the plant’s declining productivity, much to the unease of the unionised working class. Joao seems to be a compassionate manager who wants the best for the Titans, but tensions escalate inexorably towards a violent workers’ uprising – complicated by the fact that Joao has begun a romantic relationship with one of the Titans, a sassy pugilist named Phoebe, as much to his own surprise as anyone else’s.
Vigneault knows his genre fiction, and hints of other works glide by without denting Titan‘s own appeal. Joao is a manager rather than a lawman, but the setting and escalating violence in weathered industrial plants are an affectionate nod towards the Sean Connery film Outland deliberately or not. A plot point from Starship Troopers crops up late on, and the Titans are oversized humans manufactured for high gravity labour, reminiscent of Charlie-27 from Marvel’s original Guardians of the Galaxy comics.
Using conflict between normal and giant-size humans as a metaphor for class and dignity means that Titan is calling on Gulliver’s Travels too, although Vigneault’s art style brings its own particular spin to that idea. A consistent colour wash is used for accent throughout the book; in the original Canadian French-language collection from 2017 that colour was a cool mauve, but this English edition from Oni Press uses a hotter shade of coral, raising the emotional temperature of the story. The drawings are highly stylised, exaggerated faces dripping with cartoon beads of sweat transmitting entirely serious feelings and emotions in ways that sometimes suggest old Golden Age comic experiments in sci-fi, especially when the hectic nearly apocalyptic final pages arrive. There are hints of more recent characterisations too, like the large and fully self-assured female forms of Gilbert Hernandez. All these elements never overwhelm the story that Vigneault is telling – it’s too strong and resonant for that – or inhibit the pace of the comic itself, not least since it’s the human elements that the artist is most interested in. In amongst the sci-fi violence and with the planet Saturn looming over the horizon, a labour conflict roughly as old as the Earth between capitalists and workers flares up while Joao and Phoebe bond over a taste for vinyl records, antique icons of the cultural past still working their magic around those methane lakes.