Of the wonder of creativity, with a girl and a gorilla – charming just isn’t strong enough
Madeleine Flores is a debutante on the comics world – although there’s no way you’d have realised that from her art and story in The Girl And The Gorilla. And dammit, she’s young as well. Talented AND young – it’s sickening. Or at least it would be if she hadn’t knocked it out of the park with her first book.
The Girl And The Gorilla is Blank Slate’s first foray into the world of more all-ages, younger reader books, somewhere Kenny Penman, Blank Slate publisher, was reluctant to venture into. Or at least he was until this from Flores appeared on his desk in 2009. I was lucky enough to have Kenny send me a preview pdf of the first chapter, and it was quite obvious that Flores was something rather special and lovely. The full publication of The Girl And The Gorilla just proves how lovely, how special she really is.
It’s a quite ridiculously rich fantasy, delineated in minimalist line-work and simple black and white, a flight of literary fancy, a wander through the realms of ideas, of creativity, of writing.
The actual story starts out simply enough; Aurelie wants nothing more than to be a writer. Or rather she did. Right now she wants to forget writing completely, her spirit crushed by one rejection letter. It all seems too much for her to take and she’s at a very, very low point. But then this happens:
(Aurelie’s bad mood after a very nasty rejection letter is rather forgotten – well, I think a talking Gorilla would make most of us lose our train of thought. From Girl And The Gorilla by Madeleine Flores, published by Blank Slate Books)
Suddenly her terrible mood is put aside, after all – it’s not everyday you get to meet your own walking talking Gorilla. And it’s this meeting with her Gorilla that sends her off into an adventure into the literary world of “creativity”, a magical world of all manner of literary and artistic ideas, where books roam as innocent animal like things, where buildings are made from the thoughts and pages of a writer, and everywhere she looks there’s symbolism upon symbolism.
It’s something that could be far too heavy handed and serious, with the writer losing themselves in the world, far too taken with the importance of what they’re trying to tell. But Flores has a lightness and a youthful joy in her writing and her art that makes this wonderfully innocent and playful.
So instead of some dreary treatise of idea space, this is a gloriously playful romp through a philosophical, literary world, packed with all manner of weird and wonderful inhabitants, some writers and creative types who’ve simply spent too long in their own ideas, others simply visitors. Like this guy, Leonardo something or other….
(Da Vinci explains it all. From Girl And The Gorilla by Madeleine Flores, published by Blank Slate Books)
The initial wonder of the world she finds herself in eventually morphs into a quest of sorts – where it’s down to Aurelie to overcome her insecurities, rediscover her writing mojo and defeat the evil Herr Schnurbad by fighting against his black, blank, dull artist block – yes, quite literally a black building that grows and threatens to engulf al of creativity.
This is just what I meant before about Flores’ ability to take something that might have seemed a little to serious and high-handed, dealing as it does with the very high artistic concepts of the nature of the creative impulse. But instead, she’s taken a great idea and work some youthful, idealistic, impulsive fun into it. It’s far, far better this way.
There are pages when she nails it just right – getting all the sense of awe and wonder at the story into just a few lines of dialogue or a couple of ideas. Then there are the pages where she manages, simply yet brilliantly to expose poor Aurelie’s fears and insecurities that have prevented her from fulfilling her dream of being a writer.
And then there are pages where Flores just outdoes herself and comes up with such a strange, ridiculous and genuinely funny idea that it puts a smile on your face that you’ll have trouble removing long after. Just like this one – which conscisely explains why The Gorilla is so important to little Aurelie:
(A perfect explanation behind the book’s title – you’re a writer, hence the Gorilla. The very idea of Da Vinci following the painting Giraffe and the invention Wmbat had me in stitches. From Girl And The Gorilla by Madeleine Flores, published by Blank Slate Books)
The story itself is a lovingly told thing, with more than a hint, or perhaps merely the feeling of something like Sophie’s World, with it’s youthful protagonist and ethereal, philosophical feel. And Flores’ art; all delicate line, huge amounts of white space and no panel borders has a delightful, open feel. It’s super light, wonderfully flowing and simply gorgeous on the eye. There’s occasional lapses that point out how bloody new she is to all this but overall, you look with wonder at how sparingly and lovingly she puts black pen across the page, so little lines making so much impact.
You know, the only problem with Girl And The Gorilla is that there just isn’t enough of the Gorilla. I could have read page after page of the Gorilla. Maybe she can get more of him in in a sequel?
The Girl And The Gorilla is published by Blank Slate, and should be available anywhere excellent books and comics are sold. As usual, if that doesn’t include your local bookshop or comic store, then I guess your just shopping in the wrong place.