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Melancholia, Aymeric Hainaux
posted May 24, 2005


Certainly one of the most beautiful comics to be published this year, Aymeric Hainaux' Melancholia is the fleeting story of a young couple on vacation in Bretagne. Barely a story, the narrative (such as it is) is composed of a series of glimpses at discreet moments along the journey. The work unfolds as a string of inconsequential moments -- birds fly through the sky, a squirrel jumps from one tree to another -- that take on great consequence by the very fact that they are committed to paper by the artist.

imageTravel is a tricky thing, and memory all the moreso. The moments that we recall with greatest clarity from our travels are not always the most momentous. This is precisely the sense that Hainaux captures in this book. A story in which nothing happens that is rudely interrupted by a dramatic closing. Some might say over dramatic. Nonetheless, the heightening of mood, action and pace at the book's conclusion is a radical sea-change from the languid body of the work, throwing everything that we have read up to that point in time into stark relief. Despite a high degree of foreshadowing, the book's conclusion is a total shock, so much so that I'm left wondering how to read it. Was it all a dream? A metaphor? Or a memory of a different kind?

imageHainaux opens his book by giving thanks to Thierry van Hasselt and Lorenzo Mattotti. These are tough artists for any cartoonist to invoke in a new work, as their shoes are difficult to fill. There is a visual resemblance here to Mattotti's pen work, particularly in the figures, although Hainaux' panels are far less full than those typical of the Italian maestro. The tone seemingly owes more to Van Hasselt, particularly in the long silent segments and landscapes that, for me at least, recall Brutalis. In the end, Hainaux is his own cartoonist, though his influences aren't too difficult to trace.

I picked up this book at this year's Angouleme festival. Hainaux, who self-published this book, had a table -- a desk, really -- off to the side at the CNBDI's bookstore. An inauspicious location for such a major work, I sometimes worry that few people even realize that this book was published. The production is exquisite, with printing on lush paper and the title printed on a semi-transparent dust jacket. This is a gently evocative work, the type that often gets lost in the shuffle of big, bombastic comic book releases. It's well worth the effort to track this down.


My apologies for the recent absence. My time recently has been occupied by putting the finishing touches on my book about Fredric Wertham so that it can get to the printer. I'm off tomorrow to the Toronto Comics Arts Festival, where I'm participating in a round-table discussion about comics scholarship. Please stop by if you're in the neighbourhood. I'll follow up with a report next week.