Titan Books £14.99 (£9.99 paperback)

Book review: 'Snowpiercer: Volume 1, The Escape' by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette

A train that even an Ice Age can’t stop? Oh, it’s French

Snowpiercer is undoubtedly one of the greatest science fiction comics ever created, and after 32 years the first volume will finally be available in English thanks to an upcoming film adaptation starring Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, and John Hurt.

Just why it has taken so long to reach our shores is no great mystery – costly translation, and the relatively small size of the UK market, has resulted in the European comics industry holding out on many of its treasures. Still, Snowpiercer, or Le Transperceneige as it is known in its native France, is the crème de la crème of influential and important sci-fi graphic works. It is fitting, then, that the English publisher Titan has given this volume the deluxe hardcover treatment, with sumptuous print quality that stands proud alongside other French masterpieces.

This is the story of a near-future world where the remnants of humanity live on board a single but immense train, powered by a perpetual motion engine. The Earth is encased in a bitter Ice Age, induced by a sudden man-made cataclysmic event. The train, one thousand and one carriages long, holds an entire society within – the last society, segregated by class via position. The closer to the engine, the more the bourgeois elite feast and copulate amid the boredom; at the other end, poverty and disease are inescapable. But revolution is in the air.

Told in beautiful black and white, the hardships of this terrifying existence cast large shadows across the endless snow. Proloff, a resident from the very last carriage of the train, has clambered along the outside and smashed into a mid-section carriage, straight into the path of the guards. Many have attempted this suicidal run before, but the icy climate has claimed all others.

Held under guard and booted into quarantine, Proloff is joined by the naïve but well meaning Adeline, a sympathiser to the impoverished tail carriages and campaigner for train unity. Her wish to speak with the prisoner sees her sneak into quarantine, unwittingly casting her fate into the same hands that now guide Proloff. The two are to meet the president of the train, the ruler of the whole of human society. And that means travelling to the very front of the train, past sights that have been denied Proloff since the great winter first began.

Their journey along the enormous train at times has echoes of Dante’s descent into Hell as the duo gradually move up the chain of society; a similarity made all the worse by the realisation that the true horrors lie in the opposite direction.

The novel was first published in 1982, and those dark and cynical years in both France and the wider world are evident in the pessimistic tone of the book, a tone that rings as true today as it did in the 1980s. In fact, a casual reader would be surprised to realise how old this comic actually is; it appears so timeless and undated. Snowpiercer has a great deal to say about class warfare and the fate of the underprivileged, with the train as a striking metaphor.

However, despite that great darkness there are also real moments of humour, emotion, and passion that are surprising and wonderfully realistic – particularly due to the subtle and emotive facial expressions and character work of Rochette. The artist’s style is a curious blend of Western precision with the daring simplicity of Zhu Da’s Chinese paintings, providing the reader with equally well rendered stark landscapes, cramped but non-distracting backgrounds, and individually recognisable characters.

Snowpiercer is perhaps the biggest film of 2014 that no one has heard of, taking its inspiration directly from the pages of this first volume, The Escape, created by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette. The book is completely self-contained, but Rochette created two more volumes with Benjamin Legrand after Lob’s death, and while the film most closely follows the plot of the first book, certain elements are taken from the other two books in the trilogy. These other books are due for release from Titan in English in the coming months.

Already released to rave reviews in Korea and France, and smashing box office records along the way, the low-budget film adaptation from the award-winning director Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Mother) and producer Park Chan-wook is set to reach UK screens this year.

Whether the film can triumph as soundly as the graphic novel remains to be seen. The beauty and hopelessness of this book stays with the reader long after the final page.

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game