I was uneasy at the start of Lucille. First off, the art is incredibly spare. Characters are drawn with simple, slightly wobbly, lines and little or no shading. Backgrounds are minimal and there are no panels. Altogether, it gave the impression of having been doodled rather than composed. Furthermore, the first scene focuses on establishing Lucille as a mess of angst and insecurity. Coming home from school, she digs out the glasses she’s ashamed to wear in public. She calls a boy but can’t bring herself to speak to him. She stands naked before the mirror, despising her body, and then masturbates and feels guilty about it. I have read more than enough comics in which the unflinching and raw presentation of the protagonist’s adolescent psycho-sexual hangups is intended to make up for a lack of narrative drive and visual artistry. It’s my least favorite indie comic trope and I was fairly certain Lucille was headed in that direction. But I was wrong. Instead, the book is something more akin to Craig Thompson’s Blankets, a sincere and unsentimental look at the depth of first love.
The art got to me first. It remains spare and sketchy, but slowly reveals the artistry upon which the simplicity is founded. In that first scene, Lucille’s house is drawn in featureless outlines not because that’s all the artist could muster but because that’s how Lucille sees it through her depression. When Lucille’s love interest, Arthur, first sees her house it’s fleshed out into a cozy cottage in the woods. Throughout the book, the visual aesthetic shifts according to the characters’ state of mind. When Arthur gets caught up in a bar fight the lines become heavy, assertive, and dynamic and the lack of formal panels lets each image take as much of the page as it needs. When the couple are happily together they’re surrounded by lush natural landscapes. The changes are subtle enough that the art remains cohesive, but they reflect the dramatic and changeable nature of teenage emotion.
Lucille and Arthur are both awash in adolescent anguish and insecurities, but not in the unrelenting and underdeveloped manner I’d feared. She suffers from anorexia, he displays compulsive behavior and destructive tendencies, and they both have deeply imperfect families, but these things inform their characters and relationship rather than defining them. They’re both given opportunities to display personality in addition to their pathology. From their first meeting, their infatuation breeds a naive hope that they can find salvation through caring for each other. They’re written with such sincerity that it’s hard not to share their optimism, even when acutely aware of the severity of their obstacles.
Lucille ends somewhat ambivalently with the words “End of Part 1.” The French edition of the sequel, Renee, came out this year. The few bits of art I’ve seen from Renee are much more careful and mannered than the art in Lucille, but I’ve every faith that the emotional core remains strong. Hopefully the English edition hurries along soon so we can find out.
by Ludovic Debeurme
Top Shelf, 2011