With so many big names and big events plastered across the shelves of your LCS, sometimes great comics get left behind – buried in longboxes until someone comes along to find these Hidden Gems.
Art by Renaud Dillies
Written by Regis Hautière
Published by NBM
Abelard is the tale of a young man who has fallen desperately in love. Except, in Renaud Dillies and Regis Hautière’s new graphic novel, the title character is a young bird, naïve in the ways of the world.
Growing up deep in the swamp with his older friends, without a woman in sight, Abelard glimpses the vacationing Eppily, a beautiful bird-woman. Abelard finds himself pining after her. Eppily’s friend offers some helpful advice, “To seduce a girl like Eppily, you got to offer her the moon. Or, at the very least, a bouquet of stars.”
This sets Abelard off on an epic quest to America, where he has heard tales of newly-invented flying machines. Abelard’s goal: To fly to the moon and bring it back for his Eppily.
Along the way, the young, sheltered bird is confronted by the cruel world. Boosted by his magical fortune-telling hat, he makes his way to the ocean, finding very few friends along the way and many enemies. Gaston, a cynical bear, eventually accepts Abelard’s friendship, and the two make the journey to America together.
Abelard is a magnificently well-told story. Set in the early twentieth century, Abelard skillfully blends the fantastic with the realistic. The anthropomorphic characters, Abelard’s magical hat, even Abelard’s marsh near the imaginary Kananivka, are all fantasy. However, the story is as gritty and real as it gets. Don’t let the first quarter of this book fool you, there’s a lot of harsh reality in the pages of this story. Abelard tackles topics like racism, bigotry, assault, and religious zealotry though the eyes of the truly innocent. Be warned, there is a small amount of profanity in this book, and despite its appearance is for older audiences.
The English in this book is truly charming, in the way you might expect a quirky European book to be. (I was unable to uncover whether Abelard is a French translation, or if the book was originally written in English.) Everything Abelard says is simple and dripping with sweetness and naïveté. Gaston is gruff and to the point. Every so often there’s an odd turn of phrase, which makes the book even more adorable.
My only qualm with the writing is that the ending feels abrupt and uses a plot device that should have been retired after it happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Despite this, Abelard touched my emotions in a way that no other graphic novel ever has. If you can read Abelard without getting choked up, you have nerves of steel.
The artwork in Abelard is gorgeous, by the twice-Eisner-Award-nominated Renaud Dillies (nominated for his previous graphic novel Bubbles & Gondola). The pen-and-ink style and heavy crosshatching is complimented by colors in muted midtones. Full-page illustrations break up the different sections of the book. While most panels are neat, clean, and symmetrical, sometimes they swirl together or form a larger picture. The artwork has an old-timey feeling while still being fresh and original.
While I can’t speak to the quality of the hardcover version, the digital comic from ComiXology is fantastically formatted. In Guided View on the Kindle Fire, each panel swipes, fades, and zooms to provide the perfect reading experience.
If you love quirky stories with a healthy heaping dose of emotion, I beg you to read Abelard. It’s truly a fantastic graphic novel that’s perfect for people who aren’t normally comic book fans. If you don’t believe me, take it from Skottie Young:
I read this book last night. It’s the definition of CHARMING and I was choked up at the end. What a great graphic novel comixology.com/Abelard/digita…
— skottie young (@skottieyoung) November 10, 2012
I give Abelard 4.75 out of 5 bouquets of stars. Pick up Abelard as a hardcover book at your local comic store or download the digital comic from ComiXology.
P.S. As I was reading Abelard, I thought of favorite songs that go so well with the style, tone, and story. Because of this, I’ve created a Spotify playlist that is my Abelard soundtrack. Feel free to listen as you read (or just enjoy the music).