Tag Archives: Belgium

Review: MACARONI! by Vincent Zabus and Thomas Campi

MACARONI!

MACARONI! is a graphic novel involving three generations in conflict. And 11-year-old Romeo is caught in the middle. It seems that Romeo’s father has struggled to get to know his own father. The resolution to years of silence may be found in a week-long summer visit. Romeo’s dad wants him to hang out with his grandfather Ottavio at his rural home out in the countryside. Poor little Romeo reluctantly agrees to do it. MACARONI! is written by Vincent Zabus (Spirou et Fantasio), drawn by Thomas Campi (MAGRITTE), published by Dupuis, and available as a digital comic in French or English at izeno right here.

An agreement between father and son.

Zabus and Campi have collaborated on the one-shot “Les Petites Gens,“ published by Le Lombard, as well as “Les Larmes Du Seigneur Afghan,” written by Vincent Zabus in collaboration with the RTBF (Belgian television) reporter Pascal Bourgaux, published by Dupuis Editions and awarded the Prix Cognito for Best Graphic Novel at the Belgian Book Fair in 2014. For this story about a boy and his grandfather, you can easily sense a close connection between the writer and artist, as if they were one creator. The natural dialogue fits so well into the expressive artwork and vice versa. There’s a spontaneity running throughout, moving the story forward, embracing the reader. You instantly sympathize with Romeo.

“You’ll be fine.”

Romeo’s father assures him that he’ll be fine. And, in little time, Romeo knows visiting his grandfather is the best thing that could have happened to him. It won’t be easy. The old man is gruff and secretive. With a little help from Lucie, a neighbor girl Romeo’s age, Ottavio shares tales of his tumultuous life going all the way back to fighting in World War II. Peppered with insightful facts, the reader cannot help but get caught up in the emotional recollection.

Ottavio has a lifetime to share.

MACARONI! takes on the full breadth of a stage play as three generations come to terms with each other. The reader comes to see just how much of a burden Ottavio has had to bear: from learning why he lost his thumb to seeing what a struggle it was for Italian immigrants to start a new life in Belgium. This is an exceptional narrative that will appeal to any reader of any age.

MACARONI! is a 145-page full color graphic novel. You can read a digital version at izneo right here.

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Filed under Comics, Dupuis, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, izneo, Thomas Campi, Vincent Zabus

Review: ‘Arsene Schrauwen’ by Olivier Schrauwen

Arsene Schrauwen Fantagraphics

What if I told you that there was this one graphic novel that seemed to slip by many a reviewer’s radar last year and it turns out to be one of the most beguiling works in years? Here it is, “Arsene Schrauwen” by Olivier Schrauwen, translated from the original Flemish and published by Fantagraphics Books.

We begin with the author, Olivier Schrauwen, introducing himself byway of his connection to his grandfather. And we are soon on a boat in December of 1947 as Arsene Schrauwen leaves behind his homeland of Belgium on his way to a tropical colony. Once there, Arsene is at the mercy of the hospitality of his eccentric cousin, Roger Desmet.

Arsene meets his cousin, Roger!

Arsene meets his cousin, Roger!

Arsene is far from a dashing figure. He looks to be in pudgy middle-age although he is actually still in his twenties. Arsene looks like your typical Chris Ware character: remarkable for being unremarkable. Arsene is all banality, a portrait of grotesque pathos. He falls in love with Marieke, Roger’s wife, also a poster child for sad people. And it all works splendidly since, again like Chris Ware, we have here a multi-layered narrative employing an assortment of visual treats.

This graphic novel brings to my mind Werner Herzog’s film, “Fitzcarraldo,” about a crazed man’s dream to build an opera house in the Peruvian jungle. As it turns out, Desmet gets Arsene caught up in his dream of building a shining city in the jungle that will require a caravan of workers navigating through rugged terrain that includes a roaring stream which ultimately leads to a valley situated between mountains.

Lippens and his obscenely thick lips.

Lippens and his obscenely thick lips.

Schrauwen appreciates that, if you can legitimately hold the reader’s attention, time and space recede into the background. In this way, Schrauwen can indulge in such involved scenes as, Lippens, a strange old man with thick lips who leaves Arsene feeling uneasy. As he does with other characters, Schrauwen reduces Lippens down to a cylindrical face with only thick lips. Schrauwen deftly focuses on what matters, blurring backgrounds and reducing people to basic shapes as needed.

Perhaps Marieke will save Arsene.

Perhaps Marieke will save Arsene.

With Schrauwen, you have definitely entered into an ideal example of the often cryptic and fascinating world of alternative comics. The air is thin at times in this rarefied environment. At intervals, you’ll get a notice requesting that you please wait a week before reading further. The very next page thanks you for waiting. But you cannot stop reading.

You read on about the constant threat of “elephant worms” that give Arsene nightmares about tiny elephants entering his body. Ostrich eggs appear regularly as you see Arsene preparing them for breakfast just as often as he’s throwing them against a wall. And then there’s the leopard men with insatiable sexual desires. Indeed. This is a tour de force of weird fiction full of the fantastical and an unabashed celebration of the human psyche and all bodily functions.

For a graphic novel weighing in at 257 pages, it makes sense to bring in some anchoring devices to keep things on track for the long haul. Schrauwen manages to keep to a steady pace by framing much of the story in a grid-like pattern: most pages hold six panels that oddly resemble playing cards. Ornate details are kept to a minimum. And we get a consistent pitter-patter of our many characters, much like you’d find in a classic comic strip or a silent movie. Arsene, after all, is supposed to be an enigmatic creature from a bygone era. It is in this story that, for a relatively brief time, you get to see him in all his glory, among the shadows and the ghosts, in his true element.

“Arsene Schrauwen” is a 257-page trade paperback. For more details, visit our friends at Fantagraphics Books right here.

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Filed under Comics, European Comics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels