REVIEW: Marathon (2021)

A graphic Novel by Nicolas Debon

I’m not generally into sports related films, books, or comics, but Marathon by Nicolas Debon is different than your usual overdone inspirational schlock. I’m not sure if it’s the minimalist artwork that captures the feel of watching old historical footage, or the gorgeous panoramic scenes, but this book is a work of art. Taking place during the Ninth Summer Olympiad in Amsterdam, Netherlands, this tells not only the story of a marathon, but a story of the world rebuilding and clinging to peace after a bloody world war that scarred Europe forever. Many men participated in the marathon, all from every corner of the Earth, but none would be prepared for their worst adversary for such a race – incredibly strong wind running head-on.

“Amsterdam, August 1928.

The crowd goes wild as the world’s star athletes take off from the starting line for the crowning event of the Olympic Games: the marathon. Few so much as notice the short, slight Algerian runner—a factory worker by day—who wears the French jersey.

But that was before a strong wind, cramps, and 42.195 kilometers of ruthless competition combined to produce an astonishing upset…”

This graphic novel has dialogue, but the majority of the book is completely wordless, allowing the reader to savor the artwork. We see Amsterdam’s Industrial cityscapes, lush fields, and crowded streets. The majority of the story doesn’t really have a POV character, but it does follow Algerian-born marathon runner Boughera El Ouafi quite a bit in the back half. That’s no surprise as he was the man that won a gold medal for France in this very race. The book tries to get in his mind as he runs, thinking about his relationship to his sponsoring country. Is he upset about the numerous friends and family he had that were lost in the endless meat-grinder that was World War I? Is he upset about the fact that he did not chose to become “civilized” when Frenchmen came into his village as a youth? We don’t really know for sure, but what we do know is that he perseveres and triumphs.

This book contains an afterward full of historical photos and information about the race and Boughera El Ouafi in particular. I enjoyed seeing these pictures to see how closely the artist realized the event.

I really liked this book, despite not generally caring too much about running. I went into this not too sure about how I would feel, but the analysis of post World War I Europe and gorgeous artwork impressed me. This would be a great gift for someone who runs, a history buff, or anyone that likes more subdued comics. I will definitely need to follow Nicolas Debon more in the future!

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

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