My favourite Montreal book...

Mackenzie Queen

By Claude Lalumière

A review of Mackenzie Queen by Bernie Mireault

Published on January 1, 2006

Mackenzie Queen
Bernie Mireault

I first came across the work of Montreal cartoonist Bernie Mireault in 1987, when he illustrated a run of Matt Wagner’s indie comics hit Grendel. I immediately identified Mireault as a major talent, a comics visionary. His distinctive style announces-and delivers-a unique reading experience.

An unabashed sense of fun explodes from every Mireault page, spiced with a macabre visual wit. There’s a chaotic joy to his plotting-but chaos with a purpose. His stories are wildly unpredictable, and dense with invention and detail. His exuberantly quirky characters never fail to intrigue. His protagonists are broadly empathic and thus deeply sympathetic.

His signature series is The Jam, the story of a Montrealer who, imbued with unshakeable optimism and good cheer, runs around rooftops in a modified jogging suit, pretending to be a superhero. Alas, The Jam has never appeared in book form.

However, Mireault’s first venture, Mackenzie Queen, originally published in five issues by now-defunct Montreal comics publisher Matrix Graphics in 1983-84, was collected in 1990 by Caliber Press.

Mackenzie Queen is a raw, young work in which Mireault’s mature voice has yet to fully emerge, but there’s great pleasure in seeing the cartoonist improve with every page, boldly working out his idiosyncratic storytelling ideas.

The title character, Mackenzie Queen, is a former Montreal street musician granted mystical powers by a mysterious stranger who was touched by his music. (Music is a recurring trope in Mireault’s work.) Now living in an isolated Nova Scotia castle, the fledgling sorcerer gets embroiled in a wild, fast-paced adventure involving arcane manuscripts, magic, dangerous extraterrestrials, astronauts, and a roguishly charming seven-foot-tall alien sidekick.

Pulp thrills, wry dialogue, unforgettably weird characters, dead-on comic timing, playful plotting, and a powerful artistic vision: With Mackenzie Queen, Mireault’s career was off to a great start.

mRb
Claude Lalumière is the author of the forthcoming collection "Objects of Worship" and editor of eight anthologies including "Tesseracts Twelve: New Novellas of Canadian Fantastic Fiction."

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