Written by Fabien Nury; Drawn by Sylvain Vallee; Translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger;
Once Upon a Time in France is a European graphic novel based on the true story of the life of Joseph Joanavici. Joanavici was a Jewish ironmonger who had immigrated to France from Romania. He became known as a ruthless businessman, collaborator with the Nazis and, late in the war, a supporter of the French resistance.
The story starts in the early 1900’s with Joanavici hiding from a Cossack Pogrom and continues until his death in 1965. A millionaire because of his business dealings with the Nazis, Joanavici was a very complex character. During the war, many viewed him as a hero, afterwards some saw him as the villain. As he saw the ride of the war begin to turn, Joanavici used some of his profits to secure the release of hundreds of Frenchmen from Nazi captivity. Focused on his own enrichment and survival, Joanavici actively played both sides of the fence. He even ordered the murder of a young French resistance fighter, Robert Scaffa, to cover his own collaboration with the Nazis. Ultimately, Joanavici is taken to task for his wartime activities and forced to face justice, of a sort.
Nury’s story telling is complicated and sometimes difficult to follow, and one wishes for a character cheat sheet to refer to along the way, particularly as Nury jumps freely backwards and forwards in time, crossing multiple decades. It is worth sticking with it though and seeing it through to the end. It becomes apparent that in a multi-year war and occupation, few escape unsullied, even when just trying to survive. Some though, actively dirty themselves in their pursuits, even though they themselves never intended to head down that path.
Excellently drawn by Vallee in a style reminiscent of film noir style, Nury tells a compelling tale using both actual historical figures, some composite characters and a few invented ones. Originally published as individual comics, all of them have been combined in to one single graphic novel.
Other reviewers concur:
“Reminiscent of the best novels of John Le Carré, but based on true events, this is an absolutely riveting thriller that asks difficult questions about good and evil and whether actions taken in the heat of battle can be fairly adjudicated in peacetime. It’s easy to see why this work has already won the coveted Angoulême Award and sold over one million copies internationally.” Library Journal
“Once upon a Time in France is one of the best series in recent years. Public and critical plaudits include the Parisian readers’ award in 2009 and the best-series award at Angoulême in 2011. The series traces the life of Joseph Joanovici, a Romanian Jewish scrap merchant who became one of the richest men in France during World War II.” Le Parisienne
“Nury’s story is gripping, brutal, and morally complex, dramatizing the fleeting nature of power. The first chapter spills out a jumbled chronology, presenting this complicated man as an overturned jigsaw puzzle, and the pages that follow fill in the blanks and tighten like a noose. Vallée’s art has the cartoonish realism and cinematic verve of Steve Dillon. Thrilling, haunting, superb.” Kirkus
An international bestseller with over 1 million copies sold, the French series Once Upon a Time in France, collected here in one omnibus edition, has won the BDGest’Art Best Scenario Award, BDGest’Arts Album of the Year, and Angoulême International Comics Festival Best Series Award, among many others.
Born in 1976, Fabien Nury began his career by co-writing with Xavier Dorison the script of W.E.S.T (Dargaud), a hit series illustrated by Christian Rossi (six volumes between 2003 and 2011). Nury independently wrote Je suis Légion (2004-2007, Humanoids Associés), a trilogy illustrated by the American John Cassaday.
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