Sometimes a family can be made up of a fairy godfather, a beast man (a troll variant to be specific), and a baby they found in the woods. Or, at least in this case, a begrudging family. After a brief spat over who should take care of the child, Razzmatazz, the fairy, and Bon, the beast man, come to an agreement to raise her together, donning the guise of a perfectly normal human couple. Despite their initial hostility, they eventually grow closer and open up to one another, slowly coming to the realization that perhaps there is more to their relationship than just a simple ruse. Originally a Patreon-exclusive webcomic, Life of Melody makes its print debut with a charmingly domestic story about found family and the lengths one may go to be with the ones they love.
Mari Costa’s comic thrives as a humorous, and at times extremely emotional, romantic comedy. Razzmatazz (honestly, how awesome a name is that?) and Bon stand as the ideal odd couple, one being erratic, high-strung, and only a little awkward, and the other more down-to-earth, composed, and rational, though still able to comically point out the eccentricities of his partner. Their dynamic is one of the highlights of the comic, as it comes off as equal parts hilarious and heartwarming. Since the story spans a handful of years, we get to see their bond develop naturally over time despite the short page length. Due to the length, however, the pace seems somewhat rushed at the beginning, as Costa sets up their first meeting, co-parenting agreement, and moving in together all in the first chapter. Beyond that, the pace thankfully evens out once we see the two acquire jobs, make friends, and cement their places in the community as they find the best way to raise their daughter, Melody.
Costa expertly weaves emotional and comedic storytelling through her artistic style, whether it’s through expressive facial features or the lighting of a certain frame. When a character experiences a strong feeling, such as fear, stress, or anger, the panel is flooded with shades of red, making the character’s emotions immediately transparent and usually evokes an amused response. The same technique is also apparent when a character is more downcast, as the panel grows noticeably darker. This gives a feeling of visual diversity, as the entire comic is filled with a wide range of colors that perfectly capture the mood of each scene. The fact that the story takes place over a long period of time only heightens this quality, as it also gives Costa the opportunity to showcase each season in her style. I particularly enjoyed seeing the characters interacting with the lush greens of spring and summer, the rich orange tones of autumn, and the crisp blues and whites of winter. Overall, the use of color gives the comic its own versatile identity and only draws us in more to the beauty of the passage of time and emotional growth of the characters.
One aspect that I truly admire about this story is its LGBTQ+ representation, especially since this particular title is recommended for ages 13 and up. Typically, in comics targeted towards this age group, the characters in question are teens themselves, dealing with their own age-specific issues or even the ever present “coming out” narrative. While it is important for queer teens to see themselves represented on the page with characters their own age, it is equally important to show that there is hope for them in the future. Very rarely are there LGBTQ+ comics for teens that focus on adult protagonists dealing with adult issues, since there is the fear that they will not connect to the older characters or themes, or the material may not be entirely appropriate for the demographic. The only one that immediately comes to mind is Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, which is about two older women rekindling a romance they had in their teen years. With Razzmatazz and Bon’s relationship, it shows teens that queer relationships are sustainable and that it is possible to settle down and have a family, should they want to pursue a domestic life. It also helps that their relationship is normalized in this world, and that there are queer side characters as well. For so many queer teens, just being able to survive into adulthood is a major achievement, and comics like Life of Melody help them believe that they can make it there.
For that reason alone, I would heartily recommend it to audiences 13 and older. The story incorporates certain tropes that they may be familiar with and enjoy if they are interested in romantic comedies, such as odd couples, enemies-to-lovers, and a slow burn romance, as well as a captivating visual style. Librarians wanting to diversify their young adult comic collections or add more genre or content variety to the queer stories already on hand should consider purchasing this title.
Life of Melody By Mari Costa Seven Seas, 2021 ISBN: 9781648276491
Publisher Age Rating: 13+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Brazilian, Portuguese, Lesbian, Character Representation: Not Our Earth, Gay,
Despite finding success and fame, Julien Dubois, a pianist, is haunted by a past filled with crippling insecurities and overwhelming jealousy in this graphic novel. A collaboration between the writing of Filipe Melo and the art of Juan Cavia, Ballad for Sophie tells the story of a man who, in his old age, is still chasing the demons of his past.
The story starts in 1997, with Adeline, a young journalist who is visiting the estate of a reclusive world-renowned pianist for an interview. She is initially thrown out and denied an interview. Julien eventually agrees to speak with Adeline when she recognizes the sound of François Samson coming from the record player. Julien wants to set the record straight: it was François Samson who was the greatest piano player to ever live, not Julien, who spent his career mired in envy chasing the talent of François.
Julien studied the piano relentlessly and from a young age was exceptional at playing the notes on the page before him with few or no mistakes. In a contest for children, Julien is sure to win, until another young boy comes to the stage to compete. He is poor and self-taught. Julien, along with everyone else, thinks his entrance in this contest is futile—that is, until he begins to play. His technical precision is impeccable, but his music soars beyond basic execution, with art and weight that leaves all who listen in awe.
Despite the obvious talent of François, it is Julien who wins this contest, after his mother bribes the judges. But Julien knows who should have won, and he spends the rest of his career in a smoky haze of jealousy.
Julien’s interview with Adeline stretches into days. She is invited to stay in the house and they form a friendship. We see an old man who has humor and generosity, in sharp contrast to the pain he shows when discussing the past and the isolation he shares from his memories. The story spans decades of Julien’s life, from his childhood to his years as a young adult in Paris during the Nazi occupation, then through his dark and isolating fame, all told from the memories of an old man who sees himself as a fraud and a villain.
Melo’s story on its own is phenomenal, brilliantly exploring the trappings of fame and extreme dedication. There is little happiness when we look into the past, and the happiness that any of the characters are able to find is tainted by envy and trauma. But in the end, the story of this man and the people in his life is not depressing. Despite the pain from the past, during the interview there is ultimately a sense of untainted belonging and peace in his life.
As with the best books or stories told in collaboration between words and art, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The art by Cavia is beautifully rendered. The colors, lines, and shapes mirror the mood of each scene and character. Most notably, plumes of smoke filter throughout the memories, a motif that underscores the dark pain, anger, and envy in Julien’s past. Cavia also expertly uses parallel panels to emphasize comparisons between the present and the past or between characters in the story.
Adults are the intended audience for this title, and I whole-heartedly recommend it for adult graphic novel collections. Historical fiction is not always a popular graphic novel genre, but this is truly a beautiful book. I will definitely purchase it for my high school collection. I know I will be able to find students and teachers who adore it as much as I do.
The title, The Ballad for Sophie, refers to a song Julien wrote at the end of his life, the only music he ever wrote, despite his fame as a pianist. The novel’s author, Melo, is a trained pianist himself and composed the ballad to accompany the story. The sheet music is included at the end of the book, or you can listen to the theme here.
Ballad for Sophie By Filipe Melo Art by Juan Cavia Top Shelf Productions, 2021 ISBN: 9781603094986
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Portuguese
Portugal is a semi-autobiographical story that tells the story of three generations of the Muchat family: Simon, his father Jean, and his grandfather Abel. Each section focuses on a different man, though the story is told in the present tense with Simon central to the story. Simon lives in France, where he grew up, teaching art in schools, and getting lost in childish distractions rather than working on his next book. He denies his writer’s block but never creates something he feels confident enough to publish. His lack of friends leaves him isolated in a city that doesn’t feel like home. Simon is invited to a sparsely attended comic festival in Portugal, where his family is from and becomes enamored with the country by his visit. Overwhelmed by emotion, Portugal feels so suddenly familiar that he feels like hugging strangers on the beach. Back in France, unwilling to commit to his girlfriend or buy a house and settle down, a break-up sends Simon to seek validation from a single piece of mail—a wedding invitation from a Portuguese cousin he hasn’t spoken to in years. This convenient excuse to return gives him the chance to attend a family reunion and learn how his family came to live in France, what they left behind in Portugal, and even the origin of his last name.
Simon seems to seek guidance for his future by revisiting his family’s past, returning to a country he never knew but that somehow still feels like home. Portugal is a story of displacement and return, family expectations and boundaries, family truths and generational rifts. The change in Simon is not a mid-life crisis, but more like a revelation, a freedom that can only come after giving up a life that has become more burden than joy.
The plot is a bit slow to pick up during Simon’s part of the story, which may turn readers off, but this is purposeful, as it reflects Simon’s stagnant and directionless life before his visit to Portugal. The dialogue-driven second section keeps the action moving and develops depth to the story by allowing Simon to learn more about his family’s relationships and history. In the third arc, Simon becomes invested in exploring his family’s history more deeply and learning about his grandfather through photos, postcards, and stories.
Pedrosa’s beautiful use of color effortlessly sets the tone for the story and Simon’s growth and development. He experiences a total transformation of character–from a dull, sepia-toned, steeped-in-apathy existence in France to a lighthearted, free, color-outside-the-lines life in Portugal. The stark contrast between the color of France and the color of Portugal is so effective at communicating Simon’s joy and longing for this other life. In the second act, where Simon spends time with his father at a family reunion, the colors and crisp and realistic. In the third act, the colors stray from realism, dominated by washes of yellow, mauve, pastel teal, and orange. The lively watercolors blur beyond their lines at times, making a moment seem like a fond memory as Simon experiences both his present story and his grandfather’s past at the same time.
Portugal begins as a symbol, a desire, but becomes a concrete measure of closure, peace, and building relationships. Instead of using art as an escape from an unfulfilling life, he turns to engaging with the world around him through his art.
This book is a hefty, oversized hardcover that is worth making room for on your shelves. It’s a multilingual book; if you don’t know Portuguese, you should be able to relate to Simon fairly well. It was hard to decide if I should try to translate some dialogue while reading or experience the story as Simon does, understanding little but willing to listen and learn. Pedrosa’s use of colored speech bubbles makes it easy to distinguish what languages the characters are speaking.
In terms of content warnings, librarians should be aware that there is some cursing, a short scene with non-sexual nudity, and some dialogue about sex. This title would work best for adult readers—I don’t think teens would feel quite as engaged with the emotions and soul-searching portrayed here.
Portugal by Cyril Pedrosa ISBN: 9781681121475 NBM, 2017