A History of Mystery

Almost every genre of fiction has been tackled as a graphic novel — certainly an abundance of superheroes, science fiction, war stories, westerns, and fantasy. Often overlooked, however, even though it may be the most complex and intriguing entry in the medium, would be the mystery thriller. Excelling in prose, perhaps due to its non-visual nature and reliance on the reader to visualize their own scenery, mystery graphic novels have been fewer and far between, often quite difficult to pull off without giving away those important clues or twists prematurely in the artwork or framing. When they are done well, the results can be magical…
Good graphic novels combine carefully staged illustrations with poignant dialogue that, when used properly, can keep readers wondering “what’s really going on here?” Black Water Lilies follows in this grand tradition, and like all great mysteries, there’s more to it than meets the eye…

Michel Bussi’s Original Novel

Black Water Lilies was first published in France in 2017 as Michel Bussi’s novel, Nymphéas Noirs. It follows the tale of two murders recounted by three women set in Claude Monet’s home town of  Giverny, Normandy, where he painted his famous Water Lilies series.
Bussi used Claude Monet’s biography (by Michel de Decker) as a reference for many of the settings in the book, but was so concerned about representing the town of Giverny properly that he asked the locals to fact check his work. He wanted to present the town as a living, breathing place that many call home, not just the tourist destination it has become.
After the novel’s release and immediate success, Bussi was contacted by the Dupuis publishing house about producing a graphic novel version. He was introduced to writer Fred Duval and illustrator Didier Cassegrain, an experienced and talented team of comic creators who thought the could pull off the impossible: adapt Bussi’s “unadaptable” mystery without spoiling the shocking twist in the end. The trio also hoped to offer readers “a highly pictorial world without becoming a Monet parody.” The right creative direction would be essential.

Fred Duval

Born in 1965 in Northern France, Duval started as an avid lover of history, which is reflected in the settings of many of his graphic novels. His initial interest in political cartoons, particularly those from the rather tumultuous “Dreyfus Affair” of 18094-1906, led to an even broader appreciation of cartooning and sequential art as a legitimate form of personal expression and political observation. He first took a stab at writing comics with the mystery 500 Rifles in 1995. That same year, he released the action espionage series Carmen McCallum co-created by Olivier Vatine, a step that would introduce him to many other comic creators, including Didier Cassegrain.
His works frequently incorporated real politics and actual historical events, most notably his long-running series of alternate-history fiction, Jour J (“D-Day”), in which key events throughout history are imagined to have taken a different course, often leading to drastically different futures than the one we currently know.
After a meeting with Michel Bussi at a local “comic creators breakfast,” they discussed several of the novelist’s works to adapt, but Fred thought that Black Water Lilies was immediately atmospheric and intriguing, with a dramatic twist that he found to be an excellent challenge to tackle.
Fred spent several weeks listing all of the plot threads, clues, and pitfalls that would need to be accounted for and solved visually. Clearly, the right artist would be necessary, and Fred thought about his friend and McCallum cohort Didier Cassegrain would be ideal for adapting the magical and impressionistic setting as well as the subtle and mysterious agendas of the protagonists.

Didier Cassegrain

Didier Cassegrain was an inspired choice to illustrate Black Water Lilies. The picturesque setting of Giverny provides a stark contrast to the brutality of the murders at the core of the story.  His gauche and colored pencil work is soft and painterly, a perfect analog to Monet’s famous masterpieces. There is almost something unnervingly clam about everything. One can’t help but get the impression that there’s something brewing just below the surface.
The authors spent quite a bit of time in Giverney, soaking in the unique and picturesque environment, as well as the personality of the locals and the town itself. Fred describes the town itself as a central character and wanted to be sure that its own complicity in the events of the book is present. To that end, they placed their illustrated scenes in very specific locations throughout the famous village. Many of the panels are drawn directly from actual locations.

More to come…

The success of Black Water Lilies in Europe first reached the US with a 2020 Eisner Award nomination for Best Digital Comic, with an accompanying nomination for Didier Cassegrain for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist. The momentum of the book’s success has encouraged further collaboration between Bussi and Duval, who most recently released the adaptation of Un Avion Sans Elle (“A Plane without Her”) illustrated by Nicolai Pinheiro. Other projects are in the works.

Another murder mystery graphic novel set in a popular European landmark: THE GHOST OF GAUDI

If you enjoy books that lead you to feel you’ve got things figured out only to have the rug pulled out form under you, then you should also check out another Eisner Award nominee, The Ghost of Gaudi. Set against the backdrop of modern Barcelona, it features the specter of another artistic genius, Antoni Guadi, with scenes that tour a historically-accurate setting in Spain.

Guadi was the trailblazing architect who defined Art Nouveau style and Modernism. His buildings throughout Barcelona and the surrounding area have become essential tourist destinations and are the locations of several gruesome murders in this mystery/thriller by El Torres and illustrator Jesus Alonso Iglesias.

Guadi was called a genius, a madman, and “God’s own architect.” His designs have inspired and bewildered both mathematicians and artists for generations. His monuments defy comparison. And someone is leaving a trail of horrific murders among them, baffling local police. Only one girl may hold the key to catching the killer. But she insists she’s seen a ghost…

This mystery is a visual tour through the beautiful streets of Barcelona on a true edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Make sure to pledge for a copy of Black Water Lilies in the pre-order Kickstarter campaign running now! And while you’re at it, add a copy of The Ghost of Guadi to your pledge!