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Home > Bart Beaty's Conversational Euro-Comics

Bart Beaty Reviews Ma Maman
posted July 17, 2008
 

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Every year at Angouleme there is one artist that, for whatever reason, I tell myself that I'm going to make an effort to meet. This year it was Emile Bravo. For years Bravo has been publishing terrific children's comics (Jules) in a style that is a throwback to the great traditions of the classic Franco-Belgian style, and I had never had an opportunity to tell him how great I find his work. This year, he had a new book out with his frequent collaborator, writer Jean Regnaud, and it was nominated for a prize. So I figured that I would get him to sign my copy of that book, the ludicrously long-titled Ma Maman est en Amerique, elle a rencontre Buffalo Bill (My mother is in America, she met Buffalo Bill).

Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for Gallimard's sales department, hundreds of people seemed to be thinking the same thing that I was. I assiduously noted all the times that Bravo would be signing over the weekend, and repeatedly went to those signings, but each time I got to the big tent I found an insanely long line in front of his table and quickly gave up (I'm both impatient and slightly phobic around large crowds).

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Reading Ma Maman it is easy to see why Bravo draws the fans in large numbers. The book tells the story of young Jean (Regnaud), whose mother has passed away, but who does not know this. For reasons that are his own, Jean's father has kept Jean and his younger brother in the dark, and the book follows his confusion and his gradual, and sudden, realization of the truth about his familial situation. Told in a series of short interludes, the book has an incredible charm. Bravo's pages are sharply drawn and uncluttered, with a beautifully muted color palette that provides the whole thing an earthy feeling. This is one of the best looking books of the year, and Bravo's updating of comics classicism is perfect for such a nostalgic piece.

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On Saturday night in Angouleme, of course, Ma Maman won a Fauve, and Bravo appeared on stage, excited like a little kid who has just won a little league title. All of the winners that night seemed pleased, but Bravo seemed ecstatic, and it was a joy to revel in his joy. Later that evening I saw him, prize in hand, at the extremely crowded Chat Noir and I realized that this might be my only chance. He was talking with some people that I know, so I took the opportunity to shake his hand and offer my brief congratulations as I was making my way to the door. For a book this good, he deserved better, but it was the only opportunity that was presented.

For those interested in the book, a complete fan translation has been posted at ComixInflux, an invaluable new site that focuses on building a readership for European comics by providing free translations. Check it out, and support the site if you're able. Ponent Mon will be releasing their edition later this year, at which time ComixInflux is going to take down their translation.

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