I subscribe to other review newsletters, I get notified every time my local library system buys a graphic novel, I haunt comic shops, and still it’s hard to get a handle on what great European graphic novels Humanoids is publishing in the U.S. Here are two that you’ll probably never come across unless you’re looking:
The Retreat by Pierre Wazem & Tom Tirabosco. Translated by Mark Bence. Humanoids, 2017. 9781594656156. 112pp.
Two friends, Serge and Igor, take a melancholy trip to the country to stay at their friend Matt’s family cabin in the woods (in Bordeaux, France, I think). It’s the last place they spent time with Matt before he died, and it’s the story of both trips and the conversations they had.
Serving this simple, touching, straightforward story, Tirabosco’s art feels thick and creamy, like he used mostly white crayons or pencils or the like on black paper. The color and texture of the paper, as well as the light application of white and some very strategic erasing seems to have played a role in really making the blacks pop off the page. Or maybe I’m totally wrong, I’m just guessing — but I’ve never seen anything that looks quite like this.
Adrift by Gregory Mardon. Translated by Mark Bence. Humanoids, 2017. 9781594658396. 116pp.
Adrift takes place mostly in the past as Mardon tells the life story of his grandfather, Adlophe “Dodo” Hérault. In 1937, at age 16, determined not to spend his life as a butcher’s boy in Douai, France, he joined the navy…where he immediately started working as a butcher. He got to see the world, though his crazy shenanigans often landed him in the brig. (One of my favorite scenes is of a bar fight he starts somewhere near Hong Kong. The crazy stuff he did is best discovered on your own, some of it quite funny.) When WWII breaks out and France is invaded, the tone of his story gets much less goofy, and he never does quite forgive the British for shelling the French naval vessel he was on. (The Brits feared the French would surrender to the Axis.) His love for the woman who would become Mardon’s grandmother is amazing, as is their life in northern Africa until they’re forced to relocate to France. His gruff exterior and his grandson’s love for him make the very end of his life that much harder and more touching.
This book reminds me of Guibert’s Alan’s War and How The World Was, rememberances of the life of his friend Alan Cope, an American who settled in France after WWII. Though I have to say, this also reminds me of my own gruff-seeming and entirely loving grandfather, especially of watching him shave.
The book is black and white and looks as if it was inked. The blacks and grays have a beautiful texture, particularly the shadows, that I’ve got no idea how Mardon achieved — it’s stunning.