A Month of Wednesdays | Two from D+Q, two from NBM
Everywhere Antennas (Drawn and Quarterly): Julie Delporte’s challenging, emotionally wrenching book comes in the form of a sketch-filled diary, the words all written in cursive with various colored pencils. It reads a bit like a therapy journal made by someone attempting to crawl out of a breakdown, sometimes sliding back as far as she gets out, an impression furthered by the art, which, like the handwritten text, looks so intimate, “corrections” made by redrawing portions on new pieces of paper, which are then taped atop the pages before printing.
There’s such a lack of artifice to the book — unless there’s a high degree of artifice applied to make it seem as if there’s a great lack of artifice — that it really seems like something you’re not supposed to be reading, something you might have found in someone’s apartment, rather than bought in a bookstore. Delporte does tell a story, but it’s fragmentary, with characters who appear and disappear and scenes that don’t necessarily lead to the next.
It would be tempting to think it was a straight diary comic created during a time of mental crisis — the line “coloured pencils … are her favourite antidepressants” in Delporte’s back-page biography indicates that many aspects of the deeply felt contents aren’t completely alien to her — were it not for the specific ailment of our unnamed, perhaps Delporte-like heroine. She suffers from a rare sensitivity to radio waves and electrical auras, so cell phones, televisions, computers, cell phone towers and power lines give her migraines, and she must find a way to divorce herself from the modern world while still trying to live some semblance of a life in it.
It’s effective and affecting, with some really rather lovely art. But, above all else, it’s comics-making as performance art, which in and of itself is kind of astounding.
Petty Theft (Drawn and Quarterly): As with Everywhere Antennas, it’s not crystal clear how much of this comic is autobiography and how much of it is artistic invention, which was the case with Pascal Girard’s previous book Reunion. The main character is a cartoonist named Pascal, but man, the strength of the gags, the unlikely coincidences the too-funny-to-be-real characters encounter, the elaborate but perfectly structured plot — it’s hard to believe anyone’s life is this comic book-ready, even that of a person who makes comics for a living.
In this offbeat comedy with a romance in it — which is not at all the same as a romantic comedy, mind you — Pascal has recently broken up with his longtime girlfriend, and has moved in with his close friend, who’s married and raising a baby. His spare room is getting smaller and smaller, as his ex keeps sending him boxes of his books, and, in the corner, is an enormous bobble-head mask of her face, leftover from a Halloween when the then-happy couple dressed up as one another. Plagued with cartoonists’ block, Pascal decides to go back into the construction business for money, and suffering from a back injury, he’s unable to continue running, the one thing that’s been keeping him sane.
One day in a bookstore, he happens to notice an attractive young lady shoplifting — and one of the books she steals is one of his (2010’s Bigfoot)! Intrigued, he decides to play amateur detective to find out the identity, whereabouts and motivations of this kleptomaniac who’s been plaguing the neighborhood bookstore, and, if possible, to recover all of the stolen goods. Even if it means having to date her to do so.
Girard tells his story in a perfectly paced, six images-per-page fashion, eschewing borders, so rather than being confined in panels, his “panels” are simply meticulously arranged illustrations separated by what space. The black-and-white art features delicate linework with just a hint of jitteriness to it, and is almost exclusively drawn in a sitcom-like medium shot.
Merely recounting the plot or describing the art doesn’t do the book any justice at all, however. Its greatest virtue is that it’s full of great jokes, and jokes can’t really be described, only told. I’d highly recommend you let Girard tell you his jokes himself.
Glacial Period (NBM): This is a new edition of the Louvre’s first comics production from 2007, now in a bigger format. It’s by Nicolas De Crecy, who imagines a period in the far-flung future when the modern world has been almost completely forgotten, covered over by the ice and snow of climate change.
In this future, a team of scientists is seeking a lost metropolis beneath the snow. The expeditions is made up mostly of human beings and a few genetically modified dogs possessing the ability to speak and an unbelievably powerful sense of smell, each of which is named for a Marvel superhero. (“My name’s Hulk, in honor of a god whom we’d concluded had been one of yours,” our protagonist among these dogs introduces himself to entities from our time period.)
They eventually stumble upon the buried Louvre, with a quartet of human beings and Hulk becoming separated. While the humans puzzle over the many works of art, and try to figure out what they are and how they might have related to the mysterious building and the beings who created it and them (in one amusing sequence, one of them combines dozens of different paintings into a single, context-free narrative, creating the story of the rise and fall of a civilization composed of random images forced together), Hulk finds himself beset by the collection itself, which has gained a sort of consciousness that allows it to talk to him.
They tell their own stories, and the story of the Louvre, and of our society, and what occurred between now and the setting of Glacial Period, more or less directly, before the book takes on a magical, almost mystical direction.
I’ve only read about half of the Louvre books NBM has published, but of those, this seemed to me to be the best, working perfectly well as a story in its own right while also being about the museum and the works it contains.
Phantoms of the Louvre (NBM): This book can’t properly be called a comic or graphic novel, even by the most generous definitions of those loose, fluid terms, but it will likely be of interest to those who enjoy comics and graphic novels. Not only does it have words and pictures in it, but it’s the work of Enki Bilal.
Part of the Louvre’s series of comics — or here, comics-adjacent books — being released in the United States by NBM, it’s not related to the Louvre; instead, Bilal wandered its halls with a camera, taking pictures of various works kept there. From his wandering and his photography, he summoned various ghosts, each of which he conjures visually and then writes a story of. These phantoms all have something to do with a piece in the Louvre’s collection, although the connections are of Bilal’s creation.
About a half-dozen pages are devoted to each of the 22 phantoms in the book. There’s a two-page, mostly empty, all-black spread with the name of the phantom and the work of art it is connected to. The next spread features a bit of text about the phantom on the left half, while the right features Bilal’s artwork, in which a ghostly figure emerges from or passes by a work from the Louvre. And, on the third two-page spread, the left page is devoted to a large sketch of the Bilal-designed phantom, with an inset of Bilal’s photograph of the particular artwork haunted by the phantom, and stats on the piece, while on the right Bilal writes the life story of the person who would become that phantom after death.
Like I said, it’s not comics, but it is gorgeous — in design, in recording select pieces of the Louvre’s collection, in Bilal’s super-imposition of ghosts upon them — and a supremely interesting springboard to watch a creator with Bilal’s imagination and abilities dive off of repeatedly.