Bubbles and Gondola, a graphic novel by Renaud Dillies, is the perfect example of why you should occasionally veer away from the Marvel and DC comics on the shelves (something I’ve been trying to get readers of this site to do for months). This book is the sleeper hit of the year in comics.
I discovered it purely by chance. While browsing around the library, I decided to check out Bubbles and Gondola based on the cover alone (I was attracted by how it vaguely resembled Krazy Kat). I hadn’t heard of it before, nor did I recognize the author or even the publishing company NBM. I loved it. I haven’t felt so enthusiastic about a new comic in a long time. Then, a week or two later, I saw it was up for an Eisner award. Apparently, others had stumbled on it the same way I had.
At first glance, Bubbles and Gondola looks like it’s a comic for kids, but beyond the cute animals, it’s definitely one to be best enjoyed by adults. Granted, there’s little in it to make it unsuitable for children (unless you’re opposed to your kids seeing a cartoon mouse smoke a cigarette or later getting drunk). The content though will be most appreciated by adults who have had extended bouts of loneliness, or have wrestled with creative blocks.
The story is about a mouse named Charlie who lives alone and longs to write a piece of what my college teachers liked to call “capital L literature.” He struggles to put his angst and anxiety into words, but instead falls into long periods of introspection, punctuated only by the appearance of a plucky bird who may or may not be imaginary. Thanks to the intervention of his new friend, Charlie is prompted to go off into his own flights of fancy.
The real attraction of the book is its art. I was often amazed by the amount of artistry put into every panel. Renaud Dillies does something only a few comic artists are good at: he purposefully uses a series of simplistic images only to surprise us when beautiful scenes show up all of a sudden. Chris Ware is a master at that, but Renaud Dillies brings in a vintage appeal that will fascinate anyone who likes old Disney cartoons or fine art. Bubbles and Gondola is one of the few comics I’ve ever found that came close to attaining the synthesis of high and low art that I haven’t seen since Jacques Tardi‘s comics from five decades ago.
The only thing close to a weakness in Bubbles and Gondola is the ending. As a fiction writer myself, I would’ve preferred the story to come full circle, or to reach what I would consider to be a real conclusion. Instead, it ends on a bittersweet note that might very well please most of the readers, but it left me wanting more.
Speaking of wanting more, hopefully the Eisner award nomination will influence Renaud Dillies to create more comics with the same level of artistry. At the very least, I’m hoping success abroad will influence the publishers to translate more of the work he has completed in the past.
Bubbles and Gondola can be read in half an hour, but it’s worth owning if you’re like me and you like to try and emulate other artists by staring at their work. I spent hours simply staring at Jacques Tardi’s The Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, and something tells me when I get around to ordering Bubbles and Gondola, I’ll do the same.