Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Wild Piano: A Philemon Book

There was this one summer when I discovered where they hid the bound comics in the library. This was back in the prehistoric days before the phrase Graphic Novel existed, when comics were considered "kid stuff." Ironically, these books were in the adult section of the library, historical artifacts from another era. Two in particular I went back to again and again: The collected Little Nemo in Slumberland and The Adventures of Tintin. Both of these comics shared a strong sense of line and color, in addition to being wild adventures of protagonists in outrageous settings.

In a similar vein comes Toon Graphics' reprinting of the Philemon Adventures from French comic artist Frederic Aristides, who went by the pen name Fred. Phil, the son of a country farmer, discovers a message in a bottle in his well. This leads him into a watery passage that lands him on the letter A in the word Atlantic stretched across the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on a globe. As goofy as that sounds, Fred makes it work in a through-the-looking-glass sort of way. There he meets Bartholemew, the well-digger who vanished one day and and been trying to find his way home. And that's from the first book in this series, Cast Away on the Letter A that came out last year.

This second book, The Wild Piano, sends Phil back to rescue Bartholemew only to find himself on the letter N this time where he is dragged into court for walking on the surface where he is sentenced to fight a piano in a bull ring to earn his freedom. Why, yes, it is all absurd, told with breezy lines and a color palate to rival Peter Max

Is there anything more to these adventures that a loony romp through a wild imagination? No. Those looking for a deeper story (i.e. adults) might find these adventures to be exactly the sort of thing that proves that comics have no value as reading material. Of course I disagree, as I feel that once you introduce the notion of fun and play into any form of literature you provide the reader with the permission to expand their own horizons. We know Lewis Carroll was a mathematician in his day, but he's remembered for giving us Alice in Wonderland. Similarly, Edward Lear was a artist and naturalist who was hired to make drawings of birds, but we know him for his limericks and nonsense poems. Serious and play, balance. Let the readers have some fun.

And maybe slip in some literary references anyway?

The Toon Graphics editions include a section at the end of each book that provides background on the references made in each. Mythical creatures, Norse mythology, Jonathan Swift and Lewis Carroll, The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, the French Revolutionary Tribunals... little visual and thematic hints are peppered throughout Phil's adventures, which might work as springboard for exploration for more interested readers. Nothing is lost if you don't get the references, but they may be enough to send a reader back through the story again and learn for themselves how to read deeper.

Summer's just around the corner, not a bad start to ease into the summer with some thoughtful and loopy graphic novels.

The Wild Piano: A Philemon Adventure
by Fred, translated by Richard Kutner
TOON Graphics 2015

(click to open up a nice, big image!)

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