Miss Don't Touch Me cover image is courtesy of barnesandnoble.com.
In my limited reading of European comics, one thing that I have noticed is that European comic book creators are surprisingly good at fashioning genre stories. Perhaps, because I tend to think of Eurocomics as high art comics, high-minded, or literary, I was predisposed to be pleasantly surprised when I read something so ordinary and so approachable. That something is Hubert & Kerascoet’s Miss Don’t Touch Me.
Miss Don’t Touch Me is set in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. A killer known as the “Butcher of the Dances” is on the prowl for loose young women. The killer apparently focuses on young women who attend dances in the suburbs, the neighborhoods outside metropolitan Paris. The narrative focuses on Blanche, a young woman who works as a maid alongside the only family she has left, her sister, the fun-loving Agatha.
Agatha is one of those girls who likes the dances out in the suburbs, and when she is killed, everyone declares it a suicide, although Blanche tells them that she witnessed the killing. Taking matters into her own hands, Blanche sets out to find the killer or killers and her investigation leads her to the Pompadour, a high-class brothel. Her new job forces her to take up certain lascivious practices, but she does those duties while trying to hold onto her virginity. The question is will her new work get in the way of her investigation? Along the way, Blanche will meet some interesting characters including, Josephine AKA Miss Jo, an exotic black woman and popular attraction at the Pompadour.
The word “snappy” can be freely used to describe the characters in Miss Don’t Touch Me. Every character: good, bad, or self-interested is lively and engaging. Writer Hubert leaves no one on the sidelines – for instance: the Prefect’s young assistant who gets his moment to shine when Miss Joe thanks him (in her own special way) for a job well done. Each character is such winning fabrications that whenever one leaves the story (momentarily or permanently) there is an air of sadness about the departure.
Miss Don’t Touch Me is a sparkling visual narrative made almost real by the art of Kerascoet (the illustrator team of Marie Pommepuy & Sébastien Cosset) and the smooth, flat, but vibrant colors by Hubert. They bring turn of the century Paris to life, from the dingy streets to the cavernous Pompadour, and the creators also surround the city with the countrified, suburban woodlands. It gives variety and adds a sense of mystery to the setting.
Another impressive thing about this graphic novel is the figure drawing. Kerascoet presents a veritable encyclopedia of cartooning human figures. Every male customer of the Pompadour is a surprising variation on saggy body/droopy penis. The women run the gamut from plump and soft to stout and strong. There are sexy females, but they are more authentic women than bombshell fantasias. This is a testament to the array of textures and essences that Miss Don’t Touch Me offers. The last act seems a bit odd and peculiar in places, but overall, Miss Don’t Touch Me is a murder mystery that will take the readers places even the best whodunits will not, and they will enjoy it.