This was a very strange, but a very interesting read. Basically, “Where is Kiki” amounts to having the acclaimed veteran writer/artist Blutch revamping a pair of old time Franco-Belgian private investigator characters for the current audience. It was published by Europe Comics with the two characters translated as Mop & Monkus.
It’s not easy finding information in English about the background of the book, and the two detectives even go by their French names in their Wikipedia entry. What I was able to suss out is that over a period of several years, Blutch and his brother Robber developed this story, along with an in-universe companion novel refered to at the beginning of the album.
Having no personal previous experience with the characters, I was able to follow their latest adventure by linking them to Spirou and Fantasio, the famous Franco-Belgian characters that operated in a similar mold. And sure enough, Mop and Monkus are a pair of best friends and colleagues, one more serious than the other, being dragged to solve a complicated caper revolving around the kidnapping of their friend.
Blutch and his brother seemingly bend the concept to introduce the idea of these two characters as being non-fiction authors who document their investigations into a popular series of crime novels. This fuels the very beginning of the book, with a promo event for the afore mentioned tie-in novel slowly turning into the beginning of a new case for the duo.
The comic pages are dense with dialogue, but the plot is relatively easy to follow and the mystery very compelling, especially as it starts relating more and more to Mop and Monkus themselves. They go through a series of conversations with all sorts of personalities, punctured by brief but very memorable action scenes featuring outsized villains and tropes that would be at home in the characters’ original post WW2 heydey. The really over the top props appear relatively late in the book and help propel it to its action packed conclusion, while not detracting too far from the relatively grounded tone that preceded them.
Despite the camp factor, the plotting is very solid and the action grounded enough to work with Blutch’ style. Blutch himself of course is a master storyteller, with a very dynamic intuitive penmanship. Thus, the reader is treated to gorgeous and expressive characters set against life-like backgrounds in such a way that none of the art looks stilted. Moreover, the artist’s expressionistic style makes the characters’ caricatural faces appear all the more pronounced in this specific context. On the other hand, the pages providing the look into the titular Kiki’s life in captivity provide the artist for a chance to feature a surreal break.
When viewed as a part of Blutch’s ouvre, it’s very easy to consider “Where is Kiki” as a passion project that touches upon his childhood favorites. Likewise, by all accounts, it seems that following this ablum, Blutch will be going back to avantgard projects like “So long silver screen” that he’s best associated with.
As for Mop and Monkus, this revitalization will surely bring them back into the current conversation and will potentially lead to a more traditional revamp by a stable creative team, that would hopefully adher to some of the stylings featured in this very entertaining album.