Skip to main content
  1. Arts & Entertainment
  2. Books

"Snowpiercer": the French graphic novel that inspired a film is one wild trip

See also

Snowpiercer: the Escape


In 2013, a South Korean made science fiction film called "Snowpiercer" garnered worldwide attention not only due to it starring Chris Evans after his prominence has risen after "Captain America: the First Avenger" and "The Avengers", but due to its success across the world. What isn't as readily known is that the film, directed and co-written by Bong Joon-ho, is actually an adaptation of a graphic novel from France. Now, U.K. based Titan Comics has ushered an English translation of the series for sale both in Europe as well as the United States. The first of two of these translated editions goes on sale tomorrow, and I was privy to an exclusive preview.

Originally produced in 2004, the story was originally called "Le Transperceneige" and was written by Jacques Lob with art by Jean-Marc Rochette, and has been translated into English by Virginie Selavy. This first of the two-part saga is called "Snowpiercer: The Escape" and it lays down the post-apocalyptic universe as well as premise for the innovative sci-fi story. It takes place in the near future where some mysterious ecological disaster has rendered the entire planet a snow and ice covered wasteland on par with a second Ice Age. The only survivors of humanity do so by living on the massive train called "Snowpiercer" which is both an ark and a tomb. The train is organized with clear divisions of class with the military, political, and upper classes in the front cars with the "middle class" in the center with the impoverished masses locked in the hind, or "tail" cars. Rules are strict, space is a luxury and those within the "Snowpiercer" seem to be aware that they're on the fast track to nowhere, and thus life must be enjoyed for the moment or spent on blind hope.

Our lead for the story is Proloff, who somehow escaped "the tail" to find himself near the middle cars and under arrest for escaping "the slums" of the train. After a past incident involving the unwashed masses trying to rise above "their station" and raid the upper cars, "the tail" has been closed off and left to rot. Proloff quickly finds himself under quarantine due to a fear of disease as well as under investigation by a lieutenant as well as the ruling class of "Snowpiercer", who see Proloff as a rare chance to gain intelligence about "the tail". He is quickly joined by Adeline Belleau, an activist for a group on "Snowpiercer" who wants to see better rights and treatment for "the third class". She quickly finds herself as much a captive as Proloff is, and they share many harrowing scenes together as well as a romance. Most of the over 100 page story deals with a march through the various cars of the train so Proloff can meet with the president as well as the record keeper, which represent various social classes. The story offers many interesting details to their world, such as priest who leads a church which prays to "Saint Loco" to in the vain hope to ensure the train's engines never slow or stop, as well as the methods of producing synthetic meat from rodents for food. There seems to be the hint of violence along every car, as Proloff finally learns the secrets of "Snowpiercer" as well as confirmation of many of his cynical suspicions about the cause of the global disaster. The finale offers a bittersweet tone for the second volume.

The art by Jean-Marc Rochette is excellent and a perfect example of illustrative detail. His panels are clear, crisp, and offer many retails such as lines in the face or ruffles on clothes yet are fluid enough that his figures and massive mechanics seem to move when the plot desires. Rochette's style appears to be similar two or inspired by the classic "Mad" artist Mort Drucker, who has worked in satire but whose style also offers a European sensibility. The black and white art also offers strong lines and great use of shadow, and contribute to the claustrophobic feel of life on a massive train. In terms of the writing, Proloff serves as a capable point of view character who always seems to know more than he lets on while still being ignorant of much of his world. Adeline has many memorable moments although she often falls into many tropes for female leads in sci fi stories. However, the real star is the world which is established through this piece, which offers an exaggeration of social classifications which seem to happen in the real world. As with the best science fiction tales, it offers an exaggeration to highlight certain things about society, which gives the piece more depth by how it seems only five minutes ahead of the present.

Volume two, "Snowpiercers: the Explorers" hits comic stores on February 25th, which will wrap the entire saga up. If that is every bit as imaginative and great to look at as this first installment, then readers are in for a treat. It may have taken a decade for this creative French comic to get some of the spotlight, but great comics like this are often timeless.