If you weren’t aware that the Louvre published manga, now’s the time to find out. The world’s most famous art museum regularly commissions graphic novels about the Louvre and its collection from creators around the world. The newest addition to the Louvre Editions is a stunning fantasy by alt-manga legend Taiyo Matsumoto, creator of Tekkon Kinkreet, GoGo Monster, and Sunny. Now out in a high-end hardcover edition from Viz, it’s one of the best new manga of the year.
According to Cats of the Louvre, the museum is home to a secret population of stray cats who congregate in the attic and come out at night to explore the galleries. One night Snowbébé, a white kitten with mismatched eyes, joins the pack. Most of the cats welcome the newcomer, but Sawtooth, lanky and bitter, takes an instant dislike to him. Meanwhile, in the human sections of the museum, a curator befriends a night watchman who says he lost his sister, long ago, in the Louvre. Is it true that certain people—and certain cats—have the ability to step inside works of art?
Matsumoto’s expressionistic artwork, full of dreamlike images and shifting perspective, is at its best here. The cats appear sometimes as cats, sometimes as catlike people, with Snowbébé becoming a small blond boy. The scenes between the human characters are more grounded in reality than the cats’ nighttime adventures, during which the museum becomes an enchanted castle filled with shadows and mystery. The final act dives inside a painting, giving Matsumoto the chance to unshackle his imagination and create a world with elements of classical European art, dream symbolism, and the weird immersive settings of artists like Henry Darger.
All of the Louvre Editions graphic novels are worth checking out. Manga artists who have contributed to the imprint include Naoki Urasawa, Jiro Taniguchi, and Hirohiko Araki (who produced a Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure side story, “Rohan at the Louvre”). Cats of the Louvre is the best of the Louvre manga to date, using the museum and its long, eclectic history as the stage for a story about the overlapping worlds of humans and animals, fantasy and reality, history and art. Recommended.
story and art: Taiyo Matsumoto