Nicolas Robel, writer/artist
Drawn & Quarterly, July 2006
Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before, but I don’t get dreary brown book covers like this one–especially this one, given that the art inside is done in comparatively cheery hues of red and green as well as brown. This time around, however, the content is just as baffling to me as the package. Robel tells a fairy-tale-like story about a little man named Barnabe who lives in a Central Park-type oasis in the big city but is haunted by nightmares in which he becomes a giant and can’t help but leave a trail of destruction wherever he goes. One day an actual giant appears and magically conjures up three giant beautiful women, with whom Barnabe falls in love. When two of them spurn his advances, he either tries and fails to commit suicide Groundhog Day-style or just contemplates it, I’m not exactly sure. But then the third woman feels fond of him after all and starts looking for him, but by then it’s too late–he’s built Icarus-style wings for himself and taken a header off a cliff. Once he lands he snuggles with the woman, and there’s some narration about how he hadn’t noticed that his isolated life had changed, and then he lives in the city all of a sudden. Robel is using the dream logic of fairy-tale storytelling, obviously, but the symbols and rhythms and analogues make little sense either on their own terms or in terms of extrapolating them to a real-world moral, especially given the frequent disconnect between the narration and the events of the story. (I suppose it could be thinly veiled autobio, but in that case it never transcends the personal.) Robel has a memorably jagged take on the cute, round-headed little characters that populate many alternative comics of this sort, one that’s clearly of a piece with his hand-lettering, but it’s not so attractive or unusual that it overcomes the book’s other shortcomings by, say, creating cohesive and inviting environments, or even simply being really pretty to look at. Shrug.