Bubbles & Gondola by Renaud Dillies
Colors by Christophe Bouchard
Reviewed by Sam Moore, Comics Editor
Writers tend to find solace in solitude. We find that too many distractions, too many people milling about, too much stimuli are detrimental to our creative processes. But what happens when that solitude morphs into loneliness? What do we do when the very thing we need in order to be creative becomes a block; when our self-appointed solitary confinement causes us to disconnect from the rest of society? That is the problem presented in French storyteller Renault Dillies’s latest US release, Bubbles & Gondola.
Bubbles & Gondola tells the story of Charlie the Mouse, a writer of “prose poems”. Unfortunately, Charlie hasn’t written anything except a pile of crumpled up paper wads. Charlie’s problem, it turns out, is too much of a good thing – he’s spent so much time in solitude that he’s forgotten what it’s like to be connected to other people. While struggling with isolation, Charlie is visited by a tophat-wearing bluebird named Mister Solitude. The enigmatic bluebird appears to our young hero at times of utter loneliness, offering him advice and counsel that Charlie neither wants nor understands. Eventually, however, after some awkward moments with his family and with strangers in a bar, Charlie reconnects with the flow of life and is able to do what he set out to do.
Dillies’s graphic novel is magical (indeed, it says so on the cover). His language explains the feelings and thoughts of Charlie in a most succinct way, but it’s his art that really tells the story. Dillies has a grasp on the use of negative space the likes of which many artists could never hope to attain. His backgrounds are dark criss-crosses of pen strokes, and his sky is a blank canvas. He uses large, sweeping geometric shapes (mostly circles and triangles) to emphasize the emptiness that Charlie is feeling. Even the drawing of Charlie is telling – he is stark white with large ears. Charlie is, himself, a physical manifestation of loneliness.
While his art is dramatic, it is in no way boring. This is, after all, a book with animal characters. The impressiveness of the empty space comes only after the initial whimsy that Dillies’s art evokes. He maintains a basic six-panel spread on each page, except for the few instances when he breaks the frame. The illustrations in each panel are wonderfully detailed (without marring the essence of isolation) and breathtakingly straightforward. This is a book that appeals to adults and children alike. Adults will embrace its esoteric examination of loneliness and isolation, and the kids will love the charming visuals and easy-to-understand language.
On a much deeper, personal level, Bubbles & Gondola is inspiring. There’s a touch of sadness to Charlie’s story, but it’s a sadness that, instead of evoking pain, evokes creativity. There’s a simplicity that lifts the graphic novel to heights of complexity. I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about Dillies’s words (when Charlie is on the Ferris wheel): “You want to write, but your ideas are a big wheel turning upon itself. The big wheel can climb however high, but it inevitably returns to its starting point. Gondolas deprived of liberty. Sad airships of an impossible adventure. You’re afraid of writing because you suffer from vertigo…Are you planning on being stuck there for the rest of your life?! In anguish and in fear?”
Dillies touches on one of the fundamental problems of writing (for me, anyway). Fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. Fear of incompetence. However, like Charlie, I can overcome that fear; I can choose to let it rule my life, or I can embrace “the feverish desire to be free”. Dillies reminds us that we all have a choice to make. What will you choose?