“The sublime life? … What do you mean by that?”
“It’s simple. You must navigate through existence as a curious passenger and not as a narrow-minded seaman. If life is modest, we must do her the honor of marrying her wholeheartedly, taking from her the best we can.”
Thoreau, A Sublime Life is a compact biographical sketch about a deep thinker, a nature lover, and a man who rebelled against the status quo. This volume, created by French duo A. Dan (art) and Maximilien LeRoy (script and colors), begins the exploration of Henry David Thoreau’s life in 1845. It is the blustery month of March and he’s just undertaken the building project that will become his famous cabin on Walden Pond. The script strings together a sequence of pivotal events in Thoreau’s life, presenting episodes that connect what is happening in the world at large to his life and his writing. Interesting vignettes include the time Thoreau spent in prison because he refused to pay taxes that would ultimately support the Mexican American War and his involvement in the abolitionist movement. The creators also focus on Thoreau’s interest in cultures and religions other than his own.
The script is a concise introduction to the life of an interesting and complex man. Pieces from some of Thoreau’s more famous writing are included, and the authors finish the book with an essay from Professor Michael Granger entitled “Thoreau: A Philosopher for Today.” But as interesting and informative as the biography of Thoreau can be, it is the artwork and coloring that carry Thoreau, A Sublime Life.
A. Dan’s line work is gorgeous and expresses much with little. He captures a striking essence of New England in several seasons. There is much detail and attention paid to trees, flora, and fauna. This is balanced with period appropriate clothing and architectural design. The art does a nice job of immersing the reader in the setting and time period; this makes it much easier to imagine what life in a mid-nineteenth century cabin might feel like, or to imagine the the sense of conviction and passion the abolitionists carried with them.
Maximilien LeRoy might be my new favorite colorist. It’s the color that makes this book really interesting to me as a reader. Working with single colors on a matte page, LeRoy is able to make New England come alive. The palate is a sort of muted-neon-earth-tone mixture that doesn’t seem like it should work, but it does. He’s not afraid to fill the page with color. The combination of the artistic representation of Thoreau’s world with a powerful palette creates a powerful reading experience. The use of white within separate panels and within text bubbles creates a rhythm that mimics the tempo of Thoreau’s life: slower at the beginning of the story and then rapidly gaining speed.
Thoreau: A Sublime Life is a worthwhile read for teens and adults who like their comics biographical or who are looking for an introduction to a complex—almost mythical—figure in American history. Context is key and readers can gain much understanding of the man who inspired the idea of civil disobedience. It may also inspire readers to consider their own passions and how they hope to leave their mark on the world.
Thoreau: A Sublime Life
by Maximilien Le Roy
Art by A. Dan
NBM Graphic Novels, 2016