In Bastard, Belgian cartoonist Max de Radigues presents one of the oddest crime partners you can imagine — mother and son. Well, not just mother and son, that’s not in itself odd, I guess, but SWEET mother and son. Devoted mother and son. Mother and son with a great, loving relationship. Oh, also, very young mother and the son, well, he’s still a kid. And they’re on the run from the law.
May is the mother, though she uses other aliases having to do with months. She’s escaping from danger after taking part in an insane, massive heist that saw one city suffer 52 robberies at the exact same time — and now the masterminds of those robberies are after her and her kid and the money they are carrying around.
Eugene is the son. He looks to be around 10 years old and he functions not so much as May’s conscience, but definitely her voice of reason. He knows that she’s a criminal and he knows how those things work, so he calmly dispenses advice when he senses that she’s not quite on top of the situation, and is more than eager to help her in her narrow escapes.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that this is no kind of a sustainable life for a mother and kid, but May has yet to figure out a way to put her troubles to rest. Old friends prove to be unreliable, and it begins to seem like there is no place safe for the duo, though they do find someone they can trust in the form of Augustus, a former financial exec who has been rambling aimlessly in a truck following the crumbling of his life.
I’ve enjoyed de Radigues work in the past. His script for the Weegee graphic biography was sharp and insightful, providing an artful tone that seems to elude so many works of the same genre, and his mini-comic Moose, originally published by Oily Comics and then collected by Conundrum Press, was a compelling teenage story and acknowledged by Charles Forsman as an influence on his own The End of the Fucking World.
It’s interesting that with Bastard, the thematic circle with Forsman is now complete since it feels like de Radigues was in turn influenced by Forsman. Perhaps, perhaps not, but the concept of two young misfits involved in a crime spree and running from both the law and their pasts is territory both have visited, and with equal warmth. And as with Forsman, the crime element, though obviously a focal point of the plot, is also in some ways an aside, a device that brings the main characters into contact with people who may or may not be capable of changing their lives, but will almost certainly add to the context and meaning behind the actions of the two characters. Both creators offer stories of emotion that are filtered through crime plots and clean, fluid lines that offer stark worlds with bouncy action.
In Bastard, though, de Radigues has little interest in the dysfunction that might haunt the two characters. In fact, it’s the total opposite. He spends most his time showing that whatever has led to this kind of life, it hasn’t hampered their humanity, their dignity, and hasn’t made them blind to each other. They may be criminals, but their hearts are open, and that warmth carries the book. In other situations, their exploits might be seedy, but here, they’re touching, and, in the end, they’re an opportunity for both characters to show their good sides despite all the possibilities for the bad.
John Seven is a journalist and children’s book writer living in North Adams, Massachusetts. His books include ‘A Rule Is To Break: A Child’s Guide To Anarchy,’ ‘Happy Punks 1-2-3,’ ‘Frankie Liked To Sing,’ and others. Find out about all his things at johnseven.me.