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from the February 2020 issue

Framing the Story: Six Graphic Narratives

In “Contacts,” Melanie Leclerc’s graphic memoir of her childhood, her famous cinematographer father gives her his Leica and teaches her how to use it. As he takes her through the steps of creating photos, he tells her, “Framing’s the most fun. Because framing means choosing, out of everything it’s possible to see, what’s going to stay. What’s going to tell the story.” In this, our fourteenth annual graphic novel issue, Leclerc and five other artists do just that, capturing both words and images to convey narratives individual and collective. From a hushed night at a museum to a noisy protest in a teeming city, in moments of private reflection and public confrontation, the resulting works reflect the storytelling power of this endlessly expressive form.

In “A Seam of Light and Black,” artist Moussa Kone, who previously worked as a museum security guard, curates an alternative guided tour. Moving through the deserted administrative wing at night, Kone and his collaborators, Walter Pamminger and Bastian Schneider, highlight elements of the offices—photos, desk chairs, bookshelves—to construct their own exhibition, a series of still lifes and found art. Like many museum catalogs, the result is a work of art in itself, images selected and organized around a singular artistic vision. 

A similarly imaginative perspective informs Thomas Mathieu and Juliette Boutant’s “Crocodiles Are Everywhere,” which addresses the #MeToo movement with a metaphorical turn. In a series of vignettes of daily life, men take the form of leering crocodiles perpetuating the worst forms of chauvinistic treatment. The ubiquity of these grinning reptiles—powerful, relentless, omnipresent—suggests the obstacle course that many women find themselves running every day. French graphic novelists Mathieu and Boutant first started documenting women’s experiences on a Tumblr, Projet Crocodiles, which grew into the book excerpted here.

Lola Larra and Vicente Reinamontes’s South of Alameda: The Story of an Occupation enters the mind of a contemplative Chilean teenager as he joins a group of student protesters in the Penguin Revolution of 2006. The student movement protested the inequalities of the country’s educational system in multiple ways, including occupying schools throughout the country, and South of Alameda includes both images and an excerpt from the ambivalent teenager’s diary of the events. A Chilean writer and journalist, Larra based her text on her observation of school occupations during the Penguin Revolution; Reinamontes, a graphic novelist and activist, was himself a member of the student movement as a teenager.

Frustration with another country’s government also leads to an uprising in Barrack Rima’s Beirut Trilogy. After decades of improper disposal of waste, Lebanon’s overflowing main dump shuts down. The resulting buildup of trash—a visual representation of the city’s corrupt and dysfunctional political system—unites Beirut’s residents and drives them into the street in protest. Rima’s graphic work has appeared in Arabic and English in addition to the original French.

And in a turn to the interior, poet Marlon Hacla contemplates evolution and growth in his dreamy “The View,” illustrated by Apol Sta. Maria. Text and image complement each other in an impressionistic meditation. Hacla made his English-language debut in our Philippines issue. This is his first collaboration with Sta. Maria, the author of several graphic works in both Filipino and English.

Although Leclerc’s father was speaking literally, we think the authors here display admirable framing skill in both the literal and figurative senses. These stories and images are prime examples of the graphic novel’s powerful and infinite range.

© 2020 by Susan Harris. All rights reserved.

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