Saturday, June 14, 2014

Book Review: The Blue Dragon


So, this is a graphical adaptation of a Quebecois play. According to their website, the play, written by Robert LePage and Marie Michaud is performed by themselves, plus a dancer. So, three characters, speaking three languages. In my American copy, all the French has been translated into English, but the Mandarin characters have been left alone. Unobtrusive translations of the Mandarin text are placed under panels, but only for dialogue.

When not part of the spoken dialogue, Mandarin calligraphy still haunts the text. Sometimes the language is part of the page design, sometimes it is part of the story itself. Above, the Chinese word for "tree" is juxtaposed against the positive result displayed on a home pregnancy test. Our characters have met up in Shanghai, so the language is everywhere, even when they are speaking English (or French).

(French version from Le Dragon Bleu)

I can't do justice to Fred Jourdain's amazing linework and layouts with a few scans. He varies from traditional "comic book" style narrative to full page "panels", punctuating the emotional beats with amazing double-page spreads. Check this publisher trailer for a better idea of the scale:

There are also these interesting asides, as a way to deal with balancing dialogue within the larger page layouts:

The story, of course, involves the triangle formed by these three people. The male "lead" actually is the inactive one; his quiet life serves to bring the two women together. Our two ladies are active in two different ways, one rebelling against a conformist Chinese culture, the other looking for a child to anchor her life.

This is one of the most masterful visual books that I've read. The way that Joudain moves freely between strict "comic book" and "illustration" will possibly upset some purists, but I think that it actually demands more interpretation from the reader, and leads to a better understanding of the story

As with all the best stories, there is no one right answer to the problems affecting our three players. We are invited to "wear" each of these characters, see their points of view, and even see the end results of the dominance of one or the other as the "hero." Definitely a book that will reward re-reading and contemplation.

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