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Hello, Me Pretty
posted June 21, 2007
 

imageCreators: Line Gamache
Publishing Information: Conundrum Press (BDang), soft cover, 64 pages, May 2007, $15
Ordering Numbers: 189499423X (ISBN10)

The first book in Conundrum Press' new graphic novel imprint BDang, Hello, Me Pretty is a translated version of the 2005 graphic novel Te Malade, Toi!. The story of a family with a mentally disabled youngest daughter (Josee) as it weaves in and out of local Montreal history of the late 1960s through the 1980s, Gamache's autobiographical story first and foremost offers readers an appealing art style that lies somewhere between Mark Beyer and Debbie Drechsler. Despite the highly stylized and almost grotesque take on character design, Hello, Me Pretty is an almost exhaustingly upbeat work. It insists from the start that Josee and others like her are angels visited upon the family, a fact which is asserted and supported by some side notions like guardian angels drawn into the narrative, but a take that's never tested by the narrative. Josee's wonderful nature is so much an ingrained part of the story's DNA we have no choice but to accept the author's word for it. It's not necessary, of course, that this work show the hassles and second thoughts that beset the family of Paul and Judy Karasik in The Ride Together, a book dealing with the same subject in a different family. It's more that one can't shake the feeling that Hello, Me Pretty would be much stronger if more attention were given to the intricacies of its family relationships, if a case for the family's ability to function was made rather than assumed. What's strange is that more time is given the matriarch's struggle with cancer or the more standard teenage rebellion that shakes the household than the role Josee plays at home. She's observed at several times throughout the book, but we geet few chances to see her engaged and involved.

The other difficulty in the work arises from uneven narrative flow. The first 13 pages of the work feel like they're from a different book altogether, with their intimate portrayal of a child's view of her mother's problems at the hospital and their strong, assured pacing. Everything after that seems to tumble forward, a series of spills rather than a controlled flow. For instance, a significant amount of space is given over to instances of Josee walking away from home or school: her adventures. We see enough of these that information is repeated, so that it seems like a build to a sizable payoff. Then that subplot suddenly ends. Other moments paint an incomplete picture. When Josee's maternal notions are described, it opens up questions regarding sex and intimacy that we really hadn't seen until then. While excellent art never seeks to push for a conclusion or a summary statement or even significant meaning, the satisfying and blessed life we're told exists lacks definition. That we take it so much about that life on faith indicates how much we're happy for it to be true. What could have been a remarkable work ends up merely a visually arresting one told from an interesting perspective.