Review: Mutiny Bay by Antoine Cossé

2014 has been something of a breakout year for Breakdown Press. The London-based micropress has published an expansive slate of challenging and ambitious comics, including the work of Antoine Cossé. Mutiny Bay is a historical drama and a retelling of the 1520 Easter day mutiny on Ferdinand Magellan’s Spanish-backed expedition to discover a strait through the tip of South America that would allow quicker access to the Spice Islands in the East.

The Easter mutiny of Magellan’s crew as they overwintered in Puerto San Julian is a small historical footnote, a tidbit of history that is often forgotten. But Cossé has fleshed out the bare facts of this piece of history and made it into 192 pages of a mix of color and black and white comics on white and rose colored paper.

To call Mutiny Bay a historical drama would be misleading; the book is both a retelling and an intense character study. From Magellan, a stiff uncompromising man obsessed with his feelings of inadequacy and his past failures, to Carraõ the foolish deckhand haunted by the death of a native woman, all characters in Mutiny Bay are moored in the past, and unable to see a path to the future.

Cossé does some very interesting things with his comic structure that are worth mentioning. The first is a circle motif that both connects events in the timeline, as through a viewing glass, and is a harbinger of death and destruction, as though a cannonball. He also uses a rose-tinted page to indicate a character’s memories, whether they are of a king or of a sexual encounter. I was also very interested in the modern language that Cossé uses throughout the book and the cognitive dissonance it creates with its historical setting.

Mutiny Bay is illustrated with a mix of ink washes and muted watercolors, all emphasizing a bleakness and a disquiet. The only times when colors of Mutiny Bay brighten are at both ends of the narrative as isolation and inevitable death lead way to madness for two mutineers who are marooned on a small island after the uprising. That the imposed dreariness of the rest of the color choices of Mutiny Bay represent a healthier set of characters says much about the future arch of these characters’ history.

As a collected whole, Mutiny Bay is an ambitious project that melds historical fact with modern storytelling in a challenging way. This is a book that ponders the nature of memory, of being lost and never found, and examines the present through the lens of the past in a way that is both unsettling and wholly observant.

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Antoine Cossé (tumblr: antoinecosse) is a cartoonist based in London. His most recent comic, Harold, was published by Retrofit Comics (tumblr: retrofitcomics) . His work has been published in English and Italian. You can find him on twitter here.

Breakdown Press (tumblr: breakdownpress) is an independent press also based in London. Their latest offerings include books by Connor Stechschulte, Inés Estrada, and Lala; you can see more at their website.

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