In the title story of this collection of shorts from talented, imaginative manga-ka est em, an art restorer encounters unexpected complications when he’s brought in to identify and repair a recently-unearthed painting, the mysterious subject of which has captivated him for years. Passion for one’s art also takes center stage in “Rasgueado,” about a jaded young flamenco dancer and an aging guitarist. In “Just Not Like a Merry-Go-Round,” carousels and horse racing serve as metaphors for living with unrequited love and taking a risk on a long shot, and in “En El Parque,” a young man takes to heart a stranger’s story of love and commitment in the face of dementia. The final piece, “Le Visiteur,” presents an epilogue to the main story.
I love est em. There’s a freeing fearlessness to her work. She finds the realistic human drama in everyday moments, even when her plot includes an element of fantasy as it does in the title story. Although she often writes about homosexual love and her characters are primarily men, her plots don’t necessarily revolve around sex, her leads are not all young and handsome, and their relationships are much more nuanced than you’d find in a mainstream yaoi manga. The stories’ resolutions are also more open-ended, with conclusions that don’t tie up everything yet nevertheless leave the reader satisfied.
That fearlessness extends to est em’s distinctive artwork as well. She includes just enough establishing visuals to let you know where you are (the Louvre, a park, a dance hall in Granada) but otherwise allows the foreground to command your attention, and it does so easily. Her combination of bold fluidity and delicate scratchiness perfectly reflects the beauty, strength, and vulnerability of her realistically-proportioned, emotionally complex characters. For example, consider the arresting image of the painting at the center of the title story, the energy-filled panels of dancing and guitar-playing in “Rasgueado,” or the latter’s striking splash page symbolically depicting the shirtless protagonist with his earbuds plugged directly into his heart.
These stories contain frank but not-especially graphic depictions of sex (surprising, considering one character sells sexual favors to make ends meet), a few bared bottoms, some subtly circumspect nudity, and no particularly strong language. Mature without being trashy, Tableau Numéro 20 offers a handful of thoughtful, moving vignettes that will appeal to fans of Fumi Yoshinaga and Natsume Ono. It may also find an audience in adult readers of romance and literary fiction, and those who are looking for a little more “art” and emotional substance in their comics or yaoi without having to dive into a multi-volume series.
Tableau Numéro 20
by est em
Publisher Age Rating: M (18+)