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posted April 10, 2007
Top Shelf, softcover, 208 pages, May 2007, $10 (On-line Version at Serializer.net)
1891830937 (ISBN), 978-1891830938 (ISBN13)
has all the fun elements of any work that starts with a restrictive element placed in front of a cartoonist, and enjoys the special advantage of being the work of Renee French (a CR
advertiser), who is enjoying the best run of her long career. Micrographica
makes use of art that French created where each page originally drawn at the size of a postage stamp. This is interesting because French is one of the best artists out there in terms of the power her detailed works gives individual illustrations. Her works generally have a very sensual element; no one is better at communicating the severity of extreme emotions or similar situations through lurid or disturbing or simply evocative art. The image reprinted above is an image where French is bringing her more traditional art style to bear; the pages per panel in Micrographica
are much more simply drawn.
What this does is to shift focus onto her other skills, particularly the side that's come out in her more recent children's book illustration assignments. French provides her characters with an overlapping narrative that rarely intersects, both based on absurdity: one pair of mice tries to maximize the situation right in front of them; a third listens to a fourth and heads out on an external quest in order to secure that same kind of solidity in their relationships. As with most good kids' books, these characters are both their own things and, likely for many readers, emotional stand-ins for children and how they relate to the world. And, because they're children, they further operate as a stand-in for the adults they will become. The way the children interact and how they see in limited ways provides French a great opportunity for humor, which is further nudged along by what seems the improvisatory nature of the narrative. Not only do the characters get off some great lines -- "I used to think you were OK, Preston, but now I think you need to be shot in the face every minute of every day for the rest of you life" -- but the characters are simple enough it's easy to track their emotional state and get some humor out of that as well.
A former on-line serial that reads more intimately on paper, and a one-off that is comfortable and interesting despite choices that seem the opposite of the ambition that's driven comics for the last few decades, Renee French's latest proves an endearing story and showcase for all
of the cartoonist's considerable skills. If you're a fan, you should pick it up. Even if you're not, you might track down the on-line version.