Puppets and Kings and Undead Things

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The Littlest Pirate KingThe Littlest Pirate King

The Littlest Pirate King by David B. and Pierre Mac Orlan, Fantagraphics Books

I first heard of the French cartoonist David B. years ago when his comic-book memoir, Epileptic, was published in English. It’s the story of his family’s endless attempts to understand and manage his older brother’s epilepsy, and it’s a fascinating, tragic and beautifully illustrated tale. David B. often used images of war—he and his brother played soldiers, but he also thought of the epilepsy as a giant lizard which he and his family battled.

David B. has a new comic book, this one an adaptation of an old French tale by Pierre Mac Orlan. A crew of cursed undead pirates roams the seas, seeking death so they can finally rest. After raiding a ship, they discover a little baby boy on board, and decide to keep him. At first the plan is to raise him just until he’s old enough, and then kill him so they’ll have a little undead cabin boy to entertain them. But this little boy who grows up among the dead brings new life (literally) to the ship, and they realize they cannot kill him—but neither can they keep him.

It’s an odd tale, and despite the fact that this is billed as an all-ages book, parents will want to preview it before younger kids get a hold of it. There is a bit of violence—they’re pirates, after all—but the ending isn’t a Disney happy ending, either, and some kids might not really understand why it ends that way.

Those concerns aside, The Littlest Pirate King is gorgeously illustrated and quite intriguing. David B. has an unusual style which tempers the creepiness of undead pirates with an almost goofy look; but then those cartoony characters grin as they run swords through people. It’s a very odd juxtaposition that matches the story well, as the terrifying pirates go raiding cruise ships to find milk for the baby.

For more about the book, visit Fantagraphics’ website, which has a slideshow preview, a PDF excerpt and editor’s notes from Kim Thompson.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book.

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