Writer/Artist: Ludovic Debeurme
French novelist and illustrator, Ludovic Debeurme, continues his amazing legacy with Renée. Since his breakthrough back in 2006, with his graphic novel Lucille, Ludovic has been known for his unique artwork and vivid story lines; Renée is no different. It is a collection of intertwined and pensive short stories. Each with their own theme about regret, love, and loss. The art is simple, but tailored very well to the book. The visualization for each character and setting is unique, and it tells a story on it’s own. Ludovic’s writing is the real treasure however. Each narrative in this book evokes graphic emotions. And the dialogue can be, at times, haunting.
It is difficult to come up with a summary for this book, since there is just so many different branches, in so many different directions. One by one, Ludovic introduces us to the characters: A clinically depressed female, an abandoned ugly boy, a withdrawn wife, a cheating husband, a torn prisoner… the list goes on. And each of the characters is related to one another by a series of wild coincidences. While each story is beautiful and complex, there are two main pieces that make for sound summary.
First is the story of a woman, and her turbulent love life. While navigating her own debilitating depression, Renée meets her first love at a jazz club. The two hit it off with an awkward first impression at an underground party. As the story progresses things seem well for the happy couple, until Pierre, the sax player, reveals a part of his life that devastates her. If their age difference was not hard enough, this new information strains their relationship further. This tale of Renée and Pierre is graphic as winds its ways through their very tumultuous relationship. And it rages on and on until the very end.
The next narrative is about a man, Arthur and his wife. While this story has elements about the harshness of prison, it was really about being trapped, in every sense of the word. The peer pressure that is imposed on Arthur, from his fellow inmates, shows a poetic meaning to the conflict of inner peace and social acceptance. The whole story is in conflict and self-doubt. His wife during this story goes through the same motions. She has to deal with her mother, who she resents, and her own depression from being away from her husband. Both of them formed a very close bond that tests their mettle. By the end, the both of them are exhausted.
All the other pieces in this story connect these two in such a powerful way. A fisher who is sent to prison, a wife divorced, a mother finding her happiness. These are necessary and beautiful components for this book about love, loss, and regret.
The art fits this book so well. Each borderless panel appears to be so effortless, but it isn’t. There is so much complication and emotion with each facial expression and ripple of water. Every character is drawn so perfectly to their personality that it is impossible to mistake one for another. Ludovic’s backgrounds are also amazing. His grassy hills look soft, and his water looks cold. And the dream and fantasy sequences are only things that can be shown by pictures, not words. The texture is unique, and each page is engaging. Out of 400+ pages, there were only a few that were convoluted, but those were pages that had some complications that more precise shading would have solved. The panel that really stood out amongst the rest was the child getting his foot caught in a bear trap.
While the art was captivating, Ludovic’s writing was what really elevated this book. The stories and themes are haunting. There are some dark places that he goes; places that solicit deep thoughts of personal experience, that are not necessarily related. The mystery that is cultivated here is incredible. The thirst for how, and why, each of these narratives are connected makes the story so much more inviting to this strange world. Page after page, chapter after chapter, this book just winds through all of these heavy issues, until it reaches this climax of clarity. Once there, the suspense is held until the very end, but getting to that point is exhausting. However, the journey is well worth the time spent.
In addition to some flawless narrative, Ludovic also blesses the reader with outstanding dialogue. Each of his characters felt so alive. Their pain and rage just lept from the pages, into the readers hearts. There are moments where a character is lovable and fun, but then they turn around for a devastating effect. A particular powerful stage in Renée’s story was her sex scene. She finally lays herself bare to Pierre, spilling out her most hidden desires, and is rejected. It is gut wrenching to read. Ludovic seems to have fun playing with the audience’s heartstrings, and as he should.
Renée is massively beautiful book. The uncomplicated art flows so graciously with the rhythm of the narrative. The dark tones, underlying themes, and mystery is what the industry needs, desperately, and it is given to us here in high doses. Thank you Ludovic Debeurme for these characters and this book. Everyone should get out there and buy a copy for themselves. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.