April in Paris with Propaganda
There’s something unmistakably cool about Paris, that sense of romance and mystery, the impossibly attractive people, the beauty of the surroundings, the little cafe bars with beautiful people sipping on espressos and Gitane smoke blowing in the wind. And as it is in the city, so it is in the comic.
Andi Watson and Simon Gane have crafted something unmistakably cool, elegantly beautiful and full of the romance and mystery of the place. Setting the book in a Paris of the 50s automatically makes the whole place redolent in the style of the time, all bohemian chic grooving to a jazz soundtrack.
Juliet is a penniless American art student, struggling to get by in Paris. She’s in love with the ideas of freedom, possibility and imagination that Paris in the 50s seems to provide. But has to make ends meet accepting commissions to paint “precious little Daddy’s girls because they won’t allow a man to stare at their pretty little bodies”.
(Juliet, full of the joys of Paris in spring. Art by Simon Gane, published SLG.)
Deborah is one such “precious little Daddy’s girl”. A rich English socialite spending her summer in Paris. But hers is a vastly different city to Juliet’s. She is a virtual prisoner in her upbringing and her hotel room. Staying in the Hotel Anglais, chaperoned by her foreigner hating Aunt (“chap”) and never allowed out to experience the Paris she is longing to see. Because Deborah is just as in love with art and the wonder of Paris as Juliet, but simply cannot find a way to get out from chap’s glare; “It’s torture for me. Here I am, my first time in Paris, and even the horse paintings won’t tempt her into the Louvre”. So Deborah has to sit in the hotel, surrounded by little England, listening to chap and other ex-pats moaning about the tea and wishing for their return to Blighty and the start of the hunting season.
(Deborah, spoilt little daddy’s girl desperate to find the Paris she’s always dreamt of. But Chap just wants another G&T down at the Hotel Anglais bar. Art by Simon Gane, published SLG.)
When Juliet waltzes in to paint Deborah, the magic of Paris starts its work and Deborah confides in Juliet, whilst Juliet goes away from this meeting head over heels in love. The arrival of Deborah’s brother gives the pair a chance to meet under more relaxed circumstances, art in the Louvre and Jazz and dancing in the Latin Quarter. And here Juliet discovers that the attraction may be mutual after all. But true love, even in the most romantic city in the world, is never one to run smooth and Debs soon is on a boat for England, back to the dismal weather, dull middle England existence and engaged to a man she barely knows. Juliet suddenly finds herself lost, alone in a Paris suddenly lacking in colour, life and love.
But fear not, I doubt I’ll spoil anyone’s enjoyment of the book by telling you that love will find a way. Which is of course, exactly as it should be in any good romance.
Paris is a beautiful, understated love story, luxuriating in the surroundings, the art and the sheer experience that is Paris. But Watson doesn’t rely on his surroundings to tell his story, he creates two interesting and believable characters, and makes you care about them and does that thing all the best romances do; has you wishing, hoping for love to win out in the end.
The choice of artist for any Andi Watson tale is always problematical. His own art is so very good that anyone drawing his words is liable to suffer in the comparison. Simon Gane draws in a very angular style, but within a couple of pages I realised that, although different, Gane’s work was equal to Watson’s, beautiful and perfectly suited to the tale. His pages are sometimes deliberately distorted; perspective is ignored for the sake of a good scene. The perfect example of this is page 9, where a perspective correct view of the cafe bar would have never given us the detail and sheer enjoyment of the page that this layout does:
(A perfect panel to illustrate the originality and freshness of Simon Gane’s art in Paris. Or as Simon Gane wrote on his blog when describing this panel: “The good thing about discarding perspective and proportion is that if you fuck up, you can say it was deliberate, and even give reasons why. Um, notice how Juliet is bigger than the other figures because she’s the star of the book…? Clever, eh?”)
Yet, despite the angular nature of his art, he’s also quite capable of drawing with a quiet grace and beauty where the art delivers a full emotional range. Take for example the moment where Juliet lovingly touches Debs for the first time, and the passion in them both, as yet unstated, unrequited, is obvious in a few perfectly placed looks and brushstrokes. Or later on, when the lovers are finally together and the motif of touching lips is repeated with such passion and intensity and sheer happiness that they’re finally together.
Paris, like everything Watson has written, is a perfect example of what a real mainstream comic book should look like. It’s a simply written delight, a romantic drama that should, in a fair and just world, be on the front stands at Borders, pronouncing the book to the world and his wife. In Paris we have a beautifully told, beautifully written, beautifully illustrated love story. Something to make the day a touch brighter and that’s always a good thing.
Simon Gane has a blog here, Andi Watson has a live journal and website, but he’s to busy making great comics to update regularly. Luckily he does update his Flickr stream with new and interesting things. Andi’s working on the next issue of Glister and Simon is currently working on Vinyl Underground from DC/Vertigo, whilst his contribution to Graphics Classics Special Edition will be in finer stores for Free Comic Book Day May 3rd or available from the FPI webstore.
Richard Bruton is a lifelong comics fan and former Comic Book Store Guy; you can read more of his thoughts on comics and life on his blog Fictions.