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When we first see the trio of kids playing ‘neath a huge sheltering tree in Ursula (AiT/Planet Lar), they could be any group of eleven-year-olds: two boys and a girl with large circles on her “strange, rosy” cheeks, fantasizing together and building a bond that’ll hold into adulthood. It’s only when the trio break from play that we realize one of the two boys, Miro, is heir to a powerful family – and even later when we learn that Ursula, that rosy-cheeked girl, is even more extraordinary.
Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba’s Ursula is an unapologetically romantic fantasy about the endurance of young love. Packed with luscious allegorical imagery alongside smartly posed child and adult characters, it’s the kind of story that either draws you in quickly or distances you with its unabashed emotionalism. It took me several tries, in fact, to get more than eight pages into this black-and-white graphic novella – all the stuff about a tree full of stars kept pushing me away – but once I actually succumbed to its storytelling rhythms, I found myself hooked. The two Brazilian graphic artists have created a simple love story, almost in spite of their occasionally overbearing poetic conceits, and in the end that’s what carries the book.

The book opens with our trio of characters as story swapping children, introduces us to a “magic” talking bird named Pip (though at first we’re unsure whether the bird is truly magical or if this ability is all in Miro’s imagination), then we see this close-knit trio break up as Ursula is sent away to school. When next we see ’em, they’re all young adults and Miro is being pressured by his traditionalist father to find a wife, so he goes off in search of Ursula. This doesn’t take long: since Ursula, he reveals, is an “enchanted being,” there’s just one place she could be. He finds her and they kiss – but, unlike most fairy tales, that kiss proves to be just the start of the story. In a flash, Miro, Ursula and third wheel Boris find themselves in an uncharted landscape full of “emotions, longings, connections,” once again in their eleven-year-old bodies.
Most of the scenes in this heavily symbolic land are handled wittily, with sprinkles of small visual jokes (a bit where Pip the Magic Bird, now chatting happily, goes after a “worm” that turns out to be a bit of dragon, is like something out of an old WB cartoon) and entertaining character poses. Clearly Moon & Ba (who swap art chores throughout the book) have more fun with their figures as whimsical children than as seriously pining adults. If Ursula falls down, it’s through not making the adult versions as interesting as their young counterparts.
The story concludes with our trio finding their way out of this enchanted land and back to the world of pure adulthood: not the most complex of plot paths (even that dragon turns out to be pretty non-threatening), but Moon & Ba are less interested in story than they are in visually evoking emotional states. Despite a somewhat coy intro that depicts the two graphic artists discussing their story (“Does anyone die?” “Hum.”), the outcome of Ursula‘s romance is never truly in doubt. For all its allegorical elements and regular thematic use of quotes from Brazilian novelist Guimaraes Rosa, the work’s as driven by its single-minded need to get boy-&-girl together as any old-fashioned Silver Age romance comic. That is by no means a slam because I ultimately finished the book wanting to see more of Moon & Ba’s work. A moderne romance comic that doesn’t end with its sensitive hero feeling regretful and broken-hearted? We could use more of these. . .

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.