Reviewer: Wouter van Dijk
William. Bastard and Conqueror, Miniac (story) & Borch (illustrations)
Orep Editions, Bayeux 2015
Hardcover, lavishly illustrated in colour, with chronological and historical references, family tree, map and background information cadres
The Conqueror’s life
Arguably no single person has had more influence on the course of English history than William the Conqueror. The life of William the Bastard, as he was mockingly called by his adversaries, is subject of this graphic novel by writer Jean-François Miniac and illustrator Borch. In the book the whole life of William is described from the perspective of the Conqueror himself. It is William who, as an old man, tells us about his youth, his rise to power and the struggle to keep hold of his duchy. The intrigues that surrounded his eventual succession as Duke of Normandy and the numerous conflicts with the French king who sought to subdue the stubborn Norman as a loyal vassal are followed in this drawn biography.
In most of the stories about William and his invasion of England the Battle of Hastings forms the culmination of the narrative. In this book however, as in William’s actual life, it covers only a part of William’s middle years, be it an important part. The events leading to and following the defeat of the Anglo-Saxon army near Hastings in October 1066 have all been given their share of attention. The controversy about the rights to the English throne of William, Harold Godwinson and Harald Hardraada also gets touched by the authors. Despite the special way the book has been written, from William’s perspective that is, Miniac succeeds in treating each pretender’s claim in the text, without presenting William’s version as the unmistakable truth, a great job. The same trick he uses successfully when describing various legends surrounding William, which the William who tells us the story recounts, while avoiding the question of whether these tales are true or not.
Because of the limited space the artists had at their disposal, and to keep up the pace of the story, sometimes the events are ploughed through at high speed, which can cause confusion for someone not familiar with William’s biography. Therefore it is advised to take note of the Conqueror’s life prior to reading the book, although it surely can be enjoyed without much prior knowledge. Also the sections with plain text instead of graphics that are inserted at various places throughout the graphic novel, help to explain important events in William’s life and times that couldn’t all be handled in a more elaborate way throughout the text proper.
Finally, also some remarks about the artwork, which is more than satisfying. It is obvious that Borch has done his part of researching. Especially nice is the great detail in which the illustrations present the historical image, for instance the peculiar Norman haircut and the details in clothing and armour. The successful symbiosis between scenario and illustrations together make a great read about William the Conqueror and the political-military machinations of his time.
Wouter van Dijk
This review was published earlier in Medieval Warfare Magazine Vol. VI issue 3