by Donald Lemke
In his encore to the critically acclaimed White Rapids (Drawn & Quarterly, 2007), award-winning Quebecois cartoonist Pascal Blanchet delivers another refreshing piece of graphic literature with Baloney: A Tale in 3 Symphonic Acts. Originally published in French by Editions la Pastèque, this slender volume reinforces Blanchet’s definitive retro style and reimagines the limitations of sequential art by introducing a musical backdrop and creating a distinctive, media-bending experience.
Translated into English by Helge Dascher and John Kadlecek, Baloney, like the fables of Brothers Grimm or the twisted tales of Franz Kafka, maintains its surrealism across language and culture. Set in an isolated village, high atop a snowy peak, the story begins with Sergei, a once handsome and prosperous butcher whose life—in a single moment of tragic destiny—suddenly changes for the worse. Forced to choose between his wife and daughter, Sergei instinctively saves his only offspring, letting his one true love fall from a rocky cliff to her death. But tragedy for the widowed meatcutter does not end there. As the years pass, his daughter loses an arm and leg to polio, and then loses her eyesight to cataracts. These curses are only exacerbated by the Duke of Shostakov, the town’s ruthless dictator, whose monopoly of the local heating company strangles businesses and keeps citizens in perpetual misery. Sergei’s misfortune, like many others’, leaves him withered and resigned to heartbreak. “Everyone called him Baloney,” Blanchet writes about Sergei, “after the saddest of all meats.” However, luck for Baloney soon takes a turn for the better when an idealistic tutor arrives to school his daughter. Their late-night lessons turn to love—sparking jovial conversations and inspiring a plan to take down the Duke of Shostakov and bring back light to the gloomy village.
Although brief, Blanchet’s narrative is delightfully lyrical, even poetic, at times, and his tale is deliciously dark and gothic; the author offers his characters hope just long enough to hurt them when it’s taken away. The real story, however, is Blanchet’s illustrations—angular geometrics and curvy lines decorate each full-page panel with the modernist flair of a Jim Flora album cover and the deconstruction of a Picasso painting. His characters bodies are perfectly spare of any details, intentionally featureless to avoid any disconnect from the reader. This abstraction of character does not lack complexity, however; instead, simplifying the characters induces greater understanding of moral concepts and creates concrete representations of the underlying themes: love, despair, and heroism. The vibrant shades of red, like the colors of raw or cured meats, enhance these emotions even further.
The most innovative aspect of Baloney is Blanchet’s inclusion of a playlist, which offers a musical pairing for each section of the book. From Prokofiev to Shostakovich, these musical suggestions are anything but ancillary. Read without minding the score, Baloney is a visual escape, but paired with these ballads the book becomes an immersive experience, evocative of the greatest silent films. With any luck, other creators will note this innovation and follow Blanchet’s lead as the sole composer of operatic graphica.
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Summer 2009 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2009