Cats of the Louvre

What is your relationship with art? Say you had the Louvre all to yourself: are you reading the placards and listening to prepared audio commentary to guide your tour? Do you stroll through and only stop for the pieces that strike you between the eyes? Would you rather arrange 30 daily, miniature visits instead of one long day? Could you visit a favorite piece each time and find something new to cherish, as though it were your own personal playground? Taiyo Matsumoto’s Cats of the Louvre explores our relationship with art, especially in relation to our perspective on mortality.

The primary cast are a bunch of cats who live in the Louvre’s attic and are semi-secretly supported by a few of the museum’s staff: the knowledgeable tour guide Cécile, the elderly Marcel, and new recruit Patrick. The vast majority of humans in this book are white and presumably French or visiting tourists; Patrick is dark-skinned and speaks French as well as Japanese. Their stories are the window dressing to the core cast of cats (plus a friendly spider) rendered in realistic and anthropomorphic styles. The humans marvel at and maintain the artworks in the museum; the cats just live there. While Cécile discusses the Mona Lisa, the Nike of Samothrace, The Funeral Procession of Love, and The Bridge at Narni, one young cat in particular, Snowbébé, is able to enter and explore the Louvre’s many paintings.

The art exploration is not seen as a gift by everyone: the black cat, Sawtooth, sees Snowbébé’s jaunts as risking the rest of the cats getting discovered and kicked out to the streets. Sawtooth came from the streets and knows the many ways cats can die out there. A warning for those with a certain soft spot: two animal characters die by the end of this book. There is also an extended dreamlike sequence that treats a missing child with a profoundly sad yet playful “lost time” theme. Come to think of it, “profoundly sad yet playful” is a great descriptor for Matsumoto’s body of work as well as artistic choices. The nooks and crannies of the Louvre, as well as the people in and around it, are rendered in his trademark distortions and gift for placing sly glimpses between moments. I feel more familiar with these cats and Louvre employees over the course of this one book than I otherwise would if this story were told in, say, ten volumes of a more conventional style, both visually and narratively. The way Matsumoto zooms out to shrink the Louvre against its surrounding environment—the book takes place over the course of seasons—then zooms in on wordless faces and gestures feels so esoteric and personal, yet universal at the same time.

Teens who’ve never read anything so simultaneously weird and heartfelt are going to be knocked for a loop by these cats’ misadventures; ditto for adults. Dozens of artworks are referenced, including some nude figures, but they’re chaste in presentation, so don’t go spiriting this straight to the adult shelf like it’s some forbidden fruit. The emotional core of this book concerns the place of art in life, when both are vulnerable to the ruins of time. Paintings need restoring and change in nature with each retouching; living creatures change with their environments and alternate between the need for exploration and for shelter. An enemy one day is a guardian the next, whether they’re a rival cat or a strange person. The art in which you get lost could be the same art in which you are found. Let this story be one of those pieces of art for your patrons.

Cats of the Louvre
By Taiyo Matsumoto
ISBN: 9781974707089
Viz, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: T

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World is a pitch perfect historical graphic novel for anyone who wants to learn about brazen rebel ladies throughout history. Pénélope Bagieu started with a list of 50 women whose stories she wanted to tell and narrowed it down to about 30 for the book. In interviews, Bagieu is quoted as saying that one of the hardest choices was deciding “whose stories I could tell a 200 times without getting bored of.”  She especially wanted to showcase that not all brazen rebel ladies are western, white, educated, cisgender, straight women. At the end of the book, Bagieu does include the rest of her list of fabulous women for further reading.

Spanning nearly 2500 years of history, Brazen gives life to women such as Agnodice, one of the first women gynecologists who lived in 350 BCE Athens, to Sonita Alizadeh, an Afghanistan rapper born in 1996. Bagieu covers doctors, scientists, artists, explorers, entertainers: just about anyone from anywhere through time. Some of the women I knew, such as Nellie Bly, Josephine Baker, Hedy Lemarr, and Temple Gradin, are listed but others such as Nzinga, warrior queen of Ndongo and Matamba, Cheryl Bridges, athlete, and Giorgina Reid, lighthouse keeper, are entirely new to me. I found myself especially delighted Bagieu made sure Mae Jamison was included, the first black woman in space who happens to be a sci-fi and comics nerd.

Typically in anthologies or in music, the placement of the stories or songs are arranged by the artist just so, with a theme or an overarching story told via that placement. I could not find such a theme here and this is not to say that the work is haphazard—rather the thoughtfulness of the placement of the brazen rebel’s lives are listed such that you could read about a rebel from 2500 years ago and the next story is of a brazen rebel from the 18th century. The book does not need to be read in chronological order, but I will warn you that when you sit down with the book you’ll likely finish it one sitting, just as I did.

Bagieu wrote, illustrated, and colored the art marking her as a force to reckon with. In another interview, Bagieu selected a “very simple palette of four colors for each story, chosen carefully regarding the era, the country, the global feeling of the story.” In between each story is a two page highly detailed and colored spread of the brazen rebel in action, whether she is warrior queen or Temple Gradin and her cows.

Pénélope Bagieu is known for her attention to detail and the wit of her subjects. Here she gives these ladies all the attention and voice that they deserve. Each brazen rebel is finely drawn and brought to life, their stories may be told over a few pages but each story is in-depth enough to whet a history lover’s appetite. Brazen is listed as age appropriate for older teens, 16+, and up, but it could easily become the favorite of middle grades and up, especially as a reference book for further study. Highly recommended for any collection especially for history lists as well as lists for LGTBQ+ peoples.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World
By Pénélope Bagieu
Art by Pénélope Bagieu
ISBN: 978-1626728691 1626728690
First Second, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen (16+)

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Character Traits: Japanese, Chinese, Black, Latinx, Middle Eastern, Lesbian, Bisexual, Queer, Pansexual, Trans

The March of the Crabs, Vol. 3: The Revolution of the Crabs

The final installment of DePins’ quirky trilogy about an unusual species of crab sees central crab characters Sunny, Boater, and Guitar involved in events larger than themselves—both in and out of the water. Some of the square (or marbled) crabs, a variety unique to France’s Gironde Estuary, have recently acquired the ability to change directions, while others remain unable to evolve and can move only in straight lines. After the marbled crabs stage a revolution against larger crabs and lobsters, their population grows tremendously. But a schism forms between the “rigid” crabs and the “turners,” and division increases when some crabs consider taking steps that even the turners think might be going too far.

Meanwhile, the human residents along the Gironde are facing difficulties of their own. A recent shipwreck and oil spill have threatened tourism, and a public relations campaign promises to clean up the area. Various tourists encountered in the prior volumes are seen again in this book, as is a documentary film crew whose movie about the marbled crabs may have exaggerated their reputation as a menace to the community. How will the crabs fare with the odds against them?

The artwork in this volume features a limited color palette creating a vintage feel. Scenes are colored according to location with underwater scenes in dark grays, reds, and greens, while light blues and yellows are used for scenes on the beach. Humans are drawn with long and angular bodies and severe facial features in most cases, though tourists are more rounded and jocular so as to be distinguished from the corporate and political types. While the story never clearly casts characters in good or evil roles, the illustrations often depict them as either heroic or sinister through the use of color, facial expression, and other cues: the lobsters have skull and cross-bone patterning on their backs, for example.

The complexity of this volume, and the series as a whole, makes it best suited for more sophisticated readers. There are numerous simultaneous plotlines to follow, and some of them are more mature in theme. The Revolution of the Crabs can easily be read in one sitting, but readers may need repeated readings to contemplate the meaning of each piece of the story. Questions abound concerning the impact of humanity upon nature, and the course nature takes on its own, along with the impact of decisions made by government authorities and the media. Although this comic looks simple, DePins’s messages are anything but. Readers who approach it with an open mind will find themselves with a great deal of thinking to do.

The March of the Crabs, Vol. 3: The Revolution of the Crabs 3
By Arthur DePins
Art by Arthur DePins
ISBN: 978-1-68415-165-3
Boom! Studios, 2018
Publisher Age Rating:
Series Reading Order

About Betty’s Boob

Scene 1: A lone crab crawls against a black backdrop.

Scene 2: It is joined by several more crabs.

Scene 3-6: They crawl towards a naked, sleeping woman while her boyfriend sleeps next to her. They congregate closer and closer towards her left breast, ultimately surrounding it.

In astrology, the crab is associated with the sign of Cancer. We know exactly what’s going on.

This is just one example of the inspired creativity devised by author Vero Cazot and Montreal illustrator Julie Rocheleau to tell the wordless story of Betty, a woman who loses her left breast to cancer. A surprisingly zany take on life after a mastectomy, this survivor’s tale takes its queue from the screwball comedies and silent movies of early cinema, complete with interspersed title cards and sound effects bubbles.

When Betty wakes in the hospital and lifts her gown to see the stitched scar across her chest, she tears the room apart looking for her missing breast. She looks under the bed, through cabinet drawers, and inside the ventilation shaft as her wig flies off and on her bald head. The hospital keeps removed boobs in individual jars on a rotating conveyer belt, and when they find Betty’s breast with the pierced nipple they rush it to her in a frenzy. Betty is thrilled; her boyfriend, who fainted when he first saw the flatness of her chest, faints for a second time. It’s a scene that brings so many things to the surface: heartache over Betty’s initial panic, shock and humor at the hospital’s cold, industrial-like procedures—one can’t help think of the current war on women’s bodies when seeing all of those classified boobs—annoyance at the self-absorbed boyfriend, and, finally, fear for Betty and what’s to come.

As the story progresses, Betty becomes increasingly inadequate and incomplete in the eyes of her boyfriend and colleagues. She tries filling her bra with an apple, and then a costly synthetic boob. In one of the story’s more zany moments, she manages to steal the boob during a botched burglary at the shop where she’s trying it on. But it’s a short-lived success, and she eventually loses both her boyfriend and her job, where having “two boobs” is literally in her contract.

Betty continues to struggle with social expectations of perfection and femininity until she befriends a group of burlesque performers. They share their own imperfections with her: a prosthetic leg, a pacemaker scar, and, in a particularly humorous show-and-tell, strongman Nino’s tiny penis. They share a giggle over that one, and the experience marks a turning point in Betty’s life.

The fact that this story aligns itself with the zany and the madcap only made me more invested in Betty’s experience. It’s a bold move to address something as devastating as breast cancer with such camp—almost taboo—but it’s camp with heart, and it’s camp that has something to say. When Betty pulls a Gene Kelly and gleefully clicks her heels together after stealing the synthetic boob, you know she’s missing the point. She’s in denial and she’s going to have to face this painful fact eventually. At the same time, you want to save her from it. It’s effective camp, and it speaks to the craziness of embracing one’s supposed failings and eventually finding joy in a life you didn’t plan for. With sprawling, surreal artwork that seems to want to spill out from the confines of the page, Betty’s is a seminal story that shouldn’t be missed.

With a fair amount of nudity and sex, About Betty’s Boob is suggested for mature readers. Adult collections will benefit from the graphic novel’s inspiring tale of loss and self-acceptance, as well as its explorations on body image and chosen family.

About Betty’s Boob
by Vero Cazot
Art by Julie Rocheleau
ISBN: 9781684151646
Archaia, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Mature readers

Four Sisters, vol. 1: Enid

In the crumbling manor Vill’Hervé live Lucie, Fred, and their five daughters, Enid, Hortense, Bettina, Genevieve, and Charlie. The family gets along quite well considering that Lucie and Fred are in fact ghosts, having died in a car crash nearly two years before. They linger on to occasionally reveal themselves to their daughters—Lucie cautioning Enid not to eat too many slices of cake before dinner or Fred helping Charlie to light the cantankerous broiler. But despite these visits, Lucie and Fred only ever reveal themselves to their daughters briefly, unexpectedly, and to each girl as an individual, never as a group. They are no longer of the living world, and it’s up to the Verdelaine sisters to take care of themselves.

Set in France, the plot of siblings orphaned by a car crash and now distantly watched over by a guardian (in this case an Aunt Lucretia), but determined to be self-sufficient, is a familiar one. While never directly derivative, Four Sisters: Enid summons up classic tales of siblings left mostly or entirely to their own devices, from The Enchanted Castle to The Boxcar Children, from I Capture the Castle to Little Women. Despite its classic sensibility, Four Sisters is a modern story, complete with cell phones, teenage gatherings to watch horror movies on Halloween, and a particularly caring and maternal sister who secretly practices Muay Thai.

While the volume’s subtitle, Enid, indicates that it is indeed one installment in a series that will eventually feature more of the Verdelaine sisters, Enid’s volume does not focus entirely on the title character herself. Much of the book is spent rolling out a subplot featuring the Verdelaines’ cousin Dove, who comes to visit and, while Enid does achieve an adventure of her own, the story in fact features each of the sisters to varying degrees.

Four Sisters in its graphic novel form is an adaptation of French novel Quatre Soeurs by Malika Ferdjoukh. Ferdjoukh collaborated with artist Cati Baur to create the graphic novel, and the result is a pleasure to behold. Baur’s art at turns summons up the moody atmosphere of France in the fall and the cozy warmth of being warm inside with family when outside the house is being lashed with rain. Furthermore, whether she’s illustrating a visit from the Verdelaines’ ghostly parents or playfully changing the expression of one character’s Mickey Mouse shirt to reflect the characters’ own emotions, Bauer’s art is able to strike both somber and humorous notes with ease. The full-color illustrations appear to be made with pen and ink and watercolors, though there is no artist’s note to confirm this supposition, and proceed in a mixed format of panels and full-page images. Speech is indicated with speech bubbles, whereas narrative text floats in soft-edged bubbles and is further set off by being written in a different font than the speech.

Recommended for larger graphic novel collections or collections with a more international focus, this book is a must-have, sure to enchant wistful teens and nostalgic adults alike.

Four Sisters, vol. 1: Enid
by Malika Ferdjoukh
Art by Cati Baur
ISBN: 9781684051960
IDW Publishing, 2018