It’s no secret that I’m not the fastest drawing guy around. And I’m terrible at planning. I’d planned to have a graphic novel done by the beginning of 2016. As it is I have 22 finished pages and a bunch of really loose digital layouts. From beginning of my DVA candidature in 2013 the months and years; light, fluffy and ephemeral things, have floated right past me. Sure, I’ve gotten a lot done, but nevertheless I thought I would have done MORE. There is no way I can get that Graphic Novel done anytime soon, not the way I want it at least. Other things have taken its place on the ladder of priorities and scuttled it back. Until now. The digital layouts I have completed so far are quite loose, inspired as they are by my limited time, broad ambition, and Lucille, a wonderful graphic novel by Ludovic Debeurme, published by Top Shelf Productions.
This is not a review of the story, rather an analysis of a visual style that at first glance appears rudimentary, yet effectively delivers a complex narrative containing weighty issues such as anorexia and suicide. At 544 pages, Lucille is up there with texts such as Craig Thompson’s Blankets, Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor, or Eddie Campbell’s Alec: The Years Have Pants in terms of thickness. It’s a big book, yet I read it in an evening.
Debeurme’s visual approach wisely makes a concession to the fact that intricate artwork only slows down the reading. This is in fact one of the tools in the sequential artist’s toolkit, when thinking about pacing. In Lucille only figures and their immediate surroundings are depicted. Word ballots are forfeit, and in their place, only the tail is left, showing the speaker. No lines are left that might detract from the reading. There are no panel borders. No excessive renderings of backgrounds. Indeed, you get the feeling that this book was drawn almost as quickly as you can read it. And there lies the deception. Artists know full well that it requires a skilful practitioner indeed to communicate characters, backgrounds and a story in just a few lines. The planning that has gone into this, the lines you don’t see, (even if they only exist within Ludovico’s mind), are evident after only close consideration.
Taking this into account, my practice has only been informed by Lucille to the matter of enabling a page-turning experience by the use of negative space. As an artist with a propensity for detail I still feel the need to keep going with images past the point of finish of Lucille. That may well be due to my lack of skill, or lack of confidence. I am also reminded of a quote by Jim Starlin, a comics professional. “Establish, establish, establish.” Leaving the backgrounds as simple as they are here only works when you have superior storytelling skills and a great script.