A charmingly illustrated French funny animal comic Renaud Dillies’ Bubbles & Gondola (NBM) recounts the “Adventure of Charlie the Mouse,” a would-be writer who is struggling to finish a book of “prose poems.”
When I first started reading this graphic novel and realized that one of its foci was gonna be the young mouse’s writer’s block, I have to admit my first response was, “Oh no, not another work about the struggles of being creative.” But Bubbles & gondola makes this concern secondary to its bigger theme: solitude and its dampening of the spirit. Introverted Charlie, the “solitary muridae,” spends his days holed up in an attic playing music for himself, watching television and futilely trying to eke out a few prose poems. When asked by his family what he’s writing about, all Charlie can tell them is “silence” — because it’s all that he knows.
This changes when our hero is visited by a top hat wearing bluebird who calls himself “Solitude.” The bird’s first appearance prompts Charlie to leave his house and go into the village where preparations for a carnival are being made. There, the mouse is persuaded to ride a ferris wheel where he starts to engage in flights of fancy. Though the wheel’s gondolas can’t leave their moorings (“deprived of their liberty,” they’re “sad airships of an impossible adventure”), Charlie’s seemingly flies off into the clouds, the first of a series of sweetly surreal moments in this book.
Dillies’ art evokes the work of an earlier poetic penman, George (Krazy Kat) Herriman, though with a trace more detailed elegance. (The book’s carnival scenes are particularly splendiferous.) NBM is marketing this as an all ages graphic novel, but while the art is decidedly kid appealing, I suspect that the book’s language and thematic concerns will put it beyond all but the oldest child reader. (I’d love to be proven wrong on this.) Bubbles and Gondola — the first half of the title refers to the ephemeral nature of art and beauty — ends with our hero happily scribbling away, a conclusion that we knew we’d reach. It’s the delightfully imagined journey to arrive at that place which makes this whimsical graphic novel so appealing.