Struggling comic artist seeks a sense of home

Portugal by Cyril Pedrosa. Color by Pedrosa and Ruby. Translation by Montana Kane. NBM, 2017. 9781681121475. 261pp. Oversized hardcover as the gods of French comics intended.

This autobiographic-ish graphic novel from the creator of the excellent Three Shadows (First Second, 2008) and the more recent Equinoxes (NBM, 2016) is an amazingly colored, somewhat loosely drawn story told in three parts.

(What do I mean by “loosely drawn?” I’m asking myself that. Some of the panels are very sketchy, and much of the rest looks like Pedrosa’s pen or brush was flying along, putting thoughts and impressions directly on the page. There’s energy in the drawings, except in the quiet moments of the story where shading and lines suddenly and subtly create stillness.)

The pitch: Cartoonist Simon is struggling: to buy a house, to teach kids art classes, to get work done. He feels like it’s all a bit pointless. He and his wife want different things, and he doesn’t really feel at home anywhere. Submerging himself in the pool offers him his only moments of peace. Exhibiting at a small comics convention in Portugal, he returns there for the first time in 20 years and enjoys it. He returns home, his wife leaves, and he returns to Portugal with his father for a cousin’s wedding and then stays longer.

This is in some ways a quiet story, but it’s so full of conversations and people that that description doesn’t sit right with me. The second part, “According to Jean” is probably my favorite — I’m a fan of Simon’s dad (he’s afraid to invite his younger girlfriend to the wedding) and all of Simon’s glorious relatives. What a great party! And what a beautiful country — Pedrosa has sold me on visiting the Portuguese countryside. (He’s also published a notebook of sketches of Portugal, and I may need to buy myself a copy next time I order graphic novels from Europe.)

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