At first glance, you might think that Abelard, by Renaud Dillies and Régis Hautiére, will be an amusing story of a poor little bird making his way to America. What you won’t know, but now do, is that you will be bawling your head off at the end of the touching and sweet story of Abelard the Bird and his difficult journey across the sea. He feels fine with his life in the country, living at the marsh with his friends, but after catching a glimpse of the beautiful Eppily and hearing that to impress her he really should present her with a bouquet of stars, little Abelard decides to go to America where he has heard of flying machines that will take you right up to the moon – a perfect way to gather a bouquet for the beautiful Eppily. Alas, Abelard’s journey is filled with sadness and sorrow. But there is also hopefulness and friendship as he meets Gaston the Bear along the way. A tough, gruff character, Gaston believes in nothing – not friendship, love, happiness or hope, but as his travels progress, Gaston starts to change in ways that he doesn’t understand. This beautiful and touching story of two friends along on the journey of their lives doesn’t discount how happiness and sorrow can change a person forever.
Although the illustrations might be seen as pleasing and suitable for children, this graphic novel is strictly for adults, not only because of its challenging content and rough language, but also for the melancholy and complicated story that is contained within its pages. This is a story of friendship, yes, but also of violence and sorrow. The illustrations are beautiful works of art. Thanks to the size of the book the five to seven panels panels per page are large and easily absorbed. Abelard’s world is brought to life through beautifully colored line drawings which are soft and blurred around the edges. This lends the characters a hazy and dreamy quality. The style is cartoonish, but not in an overly stylized or garish kind of way such as is often seen in the illustrations of animals. Every character is so expressive, in a sort of human sense, and they are all brought to life using a muted color palate which gradually transforms into greys, mauves, and darker purples as Abelard’s story turns its heel to go in a more difficult direction. Speech bubbles are used throughout and readers hear and experience everything as Abelard does; there is no internal reasoning or figuring. As readers go along with Abelard — and eventually, Gaston — the same line illustrations bring to life the sea, the marsh, the countryside, and the glorious and infinite sky that Abelard is so hoping to reach. The illustrations almost have a bit of an old-timey feel to them, and readers will feel as though they have stepped into the magical world of Abelard and his magical, note-producing hat. If the story itself doesn’t get to you, those notes that appear in his headwear most certainly will.
Abelard is a beautifully illustrated and written story. Readers will feel Abelard’s struggles and attempts to understand the world, as sad and marvelous as that world can be. What a great graphic novel to enjoy on your own or in a group; I can imagine great conversations coming out of Abelard’s journey and realizations. Beautiful. Just beautiful.