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L’Aventure des opposants, Boris Bakulin
posted July 13, 2005
 

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Sorry if this review seems like it has been slow in coming. I could make up a bunch of excuses about work and life getting in the way, but none of it would be true. The reality is, Boris Bukulin has me stumped.

Reviewers really aren't supposed to admit such things, but in this case it's true. I'd been looking forward to L'Aventure des opposants for a few months. This is Bukulin's first book, and, more importantly, it's one of the rare occasions that L'Association has published a first book by any artist. L'Asso has been unfairly knocked with the charge that they haven't aggressively sought out new voices, and Bukulin seemed to promise something of an answer to that charge. But I'm not entirely sure that I understand the answer.

Over the course of the past week I have read L'Aventure des opposants three times. And I'm still sure that I'm missing something. It is a short, cryptic novella about thick-browed men and the women that they love. Visually, the book is fascinating. Narratively, I can't help but feel that there is a key in here that will help me unlock the whole puzzle. But I haven't found it yet.

imageWhat I like most about the book is the art. Drawn in a style that some might find crude, I admire the way that Bukulin is constantly changing the pace of his representations. While (almost) every page consists of four panels arranged in a square, the images in these panels are constantly evolving and devolving. Some panels are drawn in an extremely tight fashion, with a high degree of detail and cross-hatching. Others, including successive panels, are drawn in a tossed-off fashion, often looking like doodles done with a Bic pen. The constant shift in visual tones -- from a slick professionalism to a casual zine flavor -- creates a profound sense of unease throughout the book. This is highlighted by the abstract nature of the figures. All in all, the visuals create a real sense of heightened tension that nicely emphasizes the central mystery of the story.

That mystery, however, is what makes the book so odd. The story revolves around a discussion between strangers, and a man who is being hit in the head with toy darts bearing vaguely threatening messages. They take actions to resolve the mystery, but no resolution is really forthcoming. This is a hyper-minimalist story that devolves into something of a character study, yet the characters themselves have motivations that are so elusive that we barely get to know them.

In the end, the book remains largely closed to the reader. A postscript sheds new light on the story, re-framing the entire work in a new way, without really resolving it in our minds. We're never really sure what happens, nor why, but there is a genuine compulsion to crack the codes. Every formal element that Bukulin uses here point to a larger picture that is just, perhaps, slightly out of reach. This is a book that won't be to all tastes, but I haven't been so compelled by a book in some time. I think I'll go read it again.