Graphic Novel Review: Miss Don’t Touch Me by Hubert & Kerascoet

Graphic Novel Review: Miss Don’t Touch Me by Hubert & Kerascoet

Miss Don’t Touch Me: The Complete Story
Hubert & Kerascoet
NBM Publishing
Hardcover, 192 pages – $29.99
Buy it on Amazon

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆☆
For readers 18 and up, for nudity, violence/gore, sex scenes

Set in France roughly around the mid-1920’s – early 1930’s,  Miss Don’t Touch Me is a femme-centric suspense/drama tale that centers around the people who work and frequent a high class bordello. Blanche and her sister Agatha toil by day as maids in a Parisian home. Of the two, Blanche is more serious, while free-spirited Agatha loves to go out dancing at night. But it’s on one of these dance outings that Agatha and a friend have a first encounter with “the Butcher of the Dances” – a serial killer who seeks out and kills women who frolic freely at night.

Miss Don't Touch Me

Blanche talks with Annette, from Miss Don’t Touch Me |© Dargaud, 2007-09 Hubert and Kerascoet

When Blanche witnesses a murder that has occurred in the dingy flat next door, she sets in motion a series of unfortunate events that leads her to find work at a high class den of sin. Unlike her sister, Blanche is quite restrained and uncomfortable with the debauchery that surrounds her in the bordello — so the Madam offers her as a ‘special’ girl for clients with specific needs. Blanche becomes known as “Miss Don’t Touch Me,” a dominatrix who coldly abuses, but never has sex with her clients.

In this house of sin and secrets, Blanche is surrounded by jealous colleagues and lecherous clients. She manages to make a few friends, but will Blanche’s tendency to ask too many questions be the death of her?

The art is beguiling, and the character designs are appealing, but make no mistake,  Miss Don’t Touch Me is a very dark, often violent story that’s strictly for grown-ups. It’s almost disturbing how much abuse and trauma that Hubert puts Blanche (and almost every other character who’s even slightly sympathetic) through over the course of this story. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but let’s just say that no character is “safe” from misfortune in this tale.

On one hand, Miss Don’t Touch Me reminded me a bit of Moyoco Anno’s Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen (which is currently being serialized online on Crunchyroll Manga) in that both stories are largely female-centric stories set around the same era in France, and in roughly the same world: behind the curtains at a high class bordello that caters to well-heeled but kinky gentlemen with special… “needs.” Both stories also convey the contrast between the world of luxurious, decadent illusion that the clients experience, and the treacherous, backstabbing drama and not-so-pretty circumstances that bring in and keep women in this world.

Miss Don't Touch Me

Miss Don’t Touch Me | Kerascoet and Hubert Dargaud, NBM

But while these two stories have some similarities, they also have some obvious differences — some due to their different graphic storytelling cultures — Miss Don’t Touch Me was originally created in French for the European comics market, and Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen is serialized in a Japanese manga magazine for women. As is true with a lot of bande dessinée, Miss Don’t Touch Me is a much denser story than most manga stories — in terms of plot, pacing and paneling. A LOT happens in this volume: murders, betrayals, attempted rape and graphic bondage scenes, romance, reunions, lots of characters who come and go rather quickly, and often whiplash-inducing reversals of fortune. For a reader (like me) who’s used to the not-as-visually-dense storytelling in manga, French comics’ compressed comics style can be a little much to take in and try to process. It’s not bad, per se, but it takes some getting used to.

If Kerascoet’s artwork looks familiar, that’s no coincidence — his other recently published works in English include the acclaimed grown-up fairy tale Beautiful Darkness (written by Fabien Vehlmann, published by Drawn & Quarterly) and Beauty (also published by NBM), a similar tale of femme folly and misfortune, but told within a fairy tale framework.

I do appreciate that this book’s plot is heavily focused on its female characters who are more complex and interesting than the usual eye-candy comics chicks. Blanche is a bit scared and straight-laced at first, but as the story progresses, we also see that she’s no pushover. While they do play a little fast and loose with history (the Josephine Baker-esque character in this story is most definitely NOT the Josephine Baker of stage and screen — for one thing, in this story, she’s a he), Hubert and Kerascoet don’t shy away from depicting the often harsh realities that a woman with limited financial means faces in early 20th century France. I also like that the story  isn’t completely predictable — a lot of its twists caught me completely off guard. But after all that Hubert and Kerascoet put Blanche (and the reader) through, I have to say that I found the ending to be… a bit abrupt and more than a little depressing.

I do get that as in “real life,” not all stories unfold as predictable three acts nor are they all meant to have neat and tidy endings. In that respect, Miss Don’t Touch Me is a fascinating read for readers looking for something more mature, more emotionally challenging than the usual feel-good Hollywood fare. But did I love it enough to want to read it again? Uhm. No. Not really. But do I think it’s worth reading? Yes, but mostly for fans who favor stylish, noir-style stories that aren’t afraid to delve deep into the dark side of humanity.

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