Probably best known for their work on Casanova, Umbrella Academy and 2010’s Daytripper, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon do have a side to their work that is a tad more alternative. The books may not be more alternative in terms of content necessarily because, face it, Casanova is pretty unique and off the beaten path, but books from these gentlemen have been published outside the normal circles. The first thing in my mind is 2004’s Ursula from AiT/Planet LAR which was a nice example of a comic of a different format. Ursula was printed upon a smaller form factor, technically making it one of those “mini comics” all the kids rave about. The kids do, do that, right?
Anyway, Ursula had some very delightful artwork that certainly showed the skill of both brothers, but in terms of narrative Ursula felt a bit lacking. The book felt like it was trying to make some underlying statement, yet the contents of that statement were not presenting themselves correctly. The reading experience of Ursula felt like those moments where you can not find the right words to express yourself and the point you wish to make cannot completely escape. At least to me.
But, hey, Atelier! That is why I have brought you to this blog post, right?
This comic, which also displays a smaller form factor, made its North American deput at 2010’s New York Comic Con, but the book soon became available online to appease the masses. Going in, I was not totally sure what this comic would be as it was only described to me as a comic not hindered by any language barrier. A blurb like that sold me the concept of a purely visual narrative, but in terms of what that narrative would be I had no clue. I like both of these artists, though, so that was enough to make me spend the money.
Atelier is great for two reasons, both which involve the narrative. Now, before you yell out, cursing my ignorance of the artwork, please, I wish to include the artwork as a part of the narrative’s success. This is a comic with very minimal text; the only bits to tradionally read are the few sparce sentences injected at the chapter breaks, and these sentences only tend to translate one base thought. The rest is entirely on the art, and Ba and Moon show skill by how they decide to communicate their idea, using an array of public symbols.
The book begins with images of an apple and a lightbulb, both classic visual representations of the spawning idea. It is where the book begins, in the conception stage of the creative procress, and from there it wanders through the different levels of creating. Creating a comic book, specifically. It is an account of the process, that is what this comic book is, and it is an account done with a romantic styling, giving the piece a very poetic tone. Ba and Moon show aspects of the “magic” and limitlessness behind making comics. Their narrative evokes the feeling that comics can go in all directions and know no boundaries.
More importantly though, Atelier shows the audience what comics are all about: visual narrative. Again, pulling in symbolism and sequential workings, this comic stands up as a nice piece and nice physical example of what comic books are about. Nothing is said by text, yet so much is communicated by just the use of the puzzle imagery between chapters, let alone the more intricate pages.
And I do really like the puzzle imagery. It works very well in the chapter breaks as they transition the reader from one stage of the creative process to another, showing the creation coming together. The design of it shows how making comics is a process and not just an instant happening. There is a working to it, there is a formula, and all the elements of creation must fit together. The process also is mirrored in the expressions of the brothers themselves as they do depict their own forms in the comic. The appearances vary. Most of the time Ba and Moon are walking about the fictional worlds they create, providing a smiling expression, but what are more interesting are the brief glimpses of the actual process – the work element. Ba and Moon show themselves hunched over drawing tables wearing tired expressions and dropy eyes, and this is important because it shows the hard work and dedication that is necessary to create a comic book. Sure, the process is enjoyable and does house some sense of “magic”, but also it is not an easy goal to accomplish and, for Ba and Moon to show that, it is a nice touch to the detail of the comic.
Keeping the poetic tone though, the comic ends up at a point where the excitement and awesome of comics is at its best as the brothers place us in a scene involving jetpacks, strange looking characters, and an exotic location. It stands to seal away the point: comics can do anything and be anything – comics are awesome.
Atelier stands to be a great statement. It says what comics are, what they can be, and why they are so cool. The book really is a nice, little physical piece of art, and it packs a punch. If you do not own this, well, you better get on that. Follow this link and pick it up. It’s only $3.