Before diving into this incredible Universe of adventure, friendship, inner discovery of the characters and Art Deco and SteamPunk styles, let’s dive into the life of the man who created them: Benoît Sokal.
Who was Benoît Sokal?
As you may have understood from the incipit, unfortunately Sokal is no longer with us. He passes away in 2021 due to heart failure. The magnificent universe of Benoît Sokal leaves us a graphic legacy with a narrative content that we’ll slowly unveil throughout the article.
Sokal was born in Brussels on June 28, 1954. He studied at the École Supérieure des Arts Saint-Luc in his hometown then worked for a cartoonists, François Schuiten. In 1978 he began drawing for the newspaper À Suivre. A few years later he creates his own comic series: Inspector Canardo published by Casterman. It talks about a detective duck with alcoholism, cigarettes and women problems. The Magnificent Universe of Benoît Sokal takes off when he agrees to collaborate with Microïds to create Amerzone. He obtains excellent reviews and a remarkable public response. The partnership with Microïds also lasts in the creation of Syberia and Syberia II. He later publishes a series of treasures such as Paradise, Sinking Island, Nikopol, Syberia III. His farewell comes with Syberia: The World Before.
What it takes to be a creator
Benoît Sokal, since he was a boy has always drawn a lot. “The young Benoît draws well, but other than that he doesn’t do much else”-says Sokal himself. Talent or regular dedication to drawing that did it progress, we don’t know. We’re still grateful to him for not abandoning drawing.
“I was looking in the world of drawing for a discipline that was alive. It wasn’t painting and I wasn’t attracted to contemporary art. What struck me the most was the comic. I found it modern. What interested me was telling stories in pictures, so I had no choice but comics, since the computer didn’t exist.”
Sokal’s comics inspirations
“As a child, in my family, we read weeklies like Tintin, Spirou and even Le Journal de Mickey. My brothers and I fought to be the first to read them.”
Sokal was also inspired by old numbers from the 1960s and even 1950s. He admired the extraordinary adventures of Corentin Foldoé by Paul Cuvelier and Wapi et le Triangle d’Or.
“As a teenager, I had no preconceptions and read everything that came out. I discovered André Franquin with the album Les Nid de Marsupilamis. He was a guy who liked to draw wildlife and I liked his inventions of animals from the imaginary country.”
After failing the first year of veterinary, Sokal abandons the course to start the High School of Art of Saint-Luc. The first and only school of comics present in the area at the time. There he meets many people with whom he becomes friends, such as François Schuiter and Claude Renard. “We were hired to “plug the holes” in the magazine À Suivre created around Hugo Pratt. With André Franquin he is one of my mentors ”.
Despite the different backgrounds these two artists, have the ability to create imaginary topographies. An element that Benoît Sokal reproposes in his games.
Hugo Pratt and André Franquin’s Impact on Sokal
“These authors have been my example. They are stimulating people whose books I liked for their drawings, atmospheres. All those things that make you want to get involved.”
Hugo Pratt, was at the origin of Sokal’s journey into the world of comics, as part of the newspaper À Suivre where he worked after his studies.
““At the time Hugo was a legendary figure in comics, quite romantic, thanks his stories and as a personality.”
In fact, he is one of the first to make so-called comics for adults as well as those for children. This interested Sokal even more in the world of comics.
“When we started making a journal with friends, published Corto Maltese in Siberia. It remains a fundamental album for me, in terms of comics and in my personal desire to tell stories in a certain way and with a certain tone…”
From Franquin, Sokal learns the art of creating and setting video games in imaginary places that mix with reality. Thus giving life to the magnificent worlds that are offered to us in his videogame adventures.
Let’s retrace together the fundamental stages of Sokal’s videogame evolution with the three titles in the following paragraphs…
First work of the Magnificent Universe of Benoît Sokal, is set in a tropical location in South America, which strongly recalls the Amazon. A place that exudes mystery, adventure and heat… very hot. Sokal tells us the story of a journalist, who finds himself in the role of adventurer/biologist. His mission is to bring back to his homeland an egg that is about to hatch.
It’s easy to identify yourself in the role of the nameless journalist (the only one without a defined identity). From knowing the exploits of the adventurer Alexandre Valembois, finds himself catapulted into a world that isn’t his own. With a noble mission he’ll question everything he believed in.
Considering the elements we have available we could place Amerzone somewhere between Brasil, Peru and Colombia.
Sinking Island Noir
Catapulted to another warm place we are surrounded by a splendid sea, attractive girls and architectural eco-monsters.
Sinking Island, presents several new features, both from the point of view of the style of play and the setting.
We take on the role of detective Jack Norm, sent to investigate the death of millionaire entrepreneur Walter Jones. The whole adventure will take place on the island and inside the hotel owned by the entrepreneur, named Sagorah.
Who’s suspect, his future wife? Maybe the three grandchildren or the architect who designed the hotel? The lawyer/administrator of the affairs of the deceased entrepreneur?.
The Noir aura, recalls the stories of the Agatha Christie genre and the dilapidated environments, retrieves the classic detective novels
The fictional Sagorah Island is part of the Maldives archipelago, so placing it in reality is easy.
Syberia and the incredible story of Kate Walker
The Magnificent Universe of Benoît Sokal take us in France, precisely in Valadilène, a small and remote village nestled in the French Alps. Here begins the long and exciting adventure of Kate Walker, protagonist of the Syberia saga.
From chaotic and modern New York to a place belonging to another time, Kate will be involved in unthinkable events. She’ll go from a simple intermediary, to an adventuress gradually more daring. The game is full of steampunk-like inventions while temperatures become more and more rigid as the journey continues.
On board a bizarre train, Kate will cross the whole continent. We’ll go from Barrockstadt, continuing to Komkolzgrad, straight up to the spa town of Aralbad.
And this only in the first part of her adventure.
Her journey proceeds straight until she arrives on the island of Syberia, land of the mammoths and the Yukol. An ancient nomadic people who train these hairy pachyderms.
This incredible journey was made “only” to fulfill the last wish of a brilliant inventor, Hans Voralberg. In his life has done nothing but dream of seeing these mammoth creatures now considered extinct.
Everything acquires something romantic and introspective.
Who among us would drop everything to help a stranger achieve his childhood dream?
Yet, Syberia is also this: Poetry. Romance. Adventure. Friendship. Force. Courage. Passion.
It really is much more than just a story…only by playing it you really appreciate all the work behind it.
Kate Walker’s Creation
“I wanted someone who could handle situations, be surprising, and be able to solve problems. With no use of weapons or an athletic physique. That’s why I chose a woman as the main character, purely personal taste. That means spending time with someone, as long as they’re pleasant.”
This, Benoît Sokal, imposed himself during the creation of his game.
Kate Walker was born, a brilliant New York lawyer who works at Marson & Lormont.
An heroine without innate qualities or exceptional talent allows to shape a relationship between the protagonist and the player differently. At first glance, embodying a natural woman seems like a difficulty, but this constraint has instead become an advantage.
From Lara Croft to April Ryan, Kate Walker is one of those mythical heroines in the world of video games.
“I told myself that she could solve problems differently, approach them differently from the standards of the game. I wanted a woman who behaved like one. Lara Croft symbolizes all the merits a woman can have. In fact she solves the problems physically or head-on, like a man would. For Kate, I wanted a classy girl, not a bar girl.”
Unlike her “sisters”, her name is not the title of the saga in which she evolves. That does not prevent her from being the cornerstone of the game; without her nothing is possible. She represents the pivotal character of the entire adventure. The only that the player directs.
The Magnificent Universe of Benoît Sokal
The genius of this man has given birth to wonderful worlds full of mysteries to be experienced and discovered. These titles represent an evolution in the Graphic-Adventure and Point-and-Click-Adventure genre. Moreover important is the evolution of the characters that populate these stories. What we have noticed in common is the concept of “questioning” one’s certainties and embracing change.
To fully experience and understand it, there is nothing left to do but play one of these masterpieces.
Let us know which one intrigues you the most or if you have already played one of these.