After several animations, a daily newspaper comic and a number of short stories, the first graphic novel by multi-talented Dutch creator Aimée de Jongh tries to hit all the right emotional notes in the tale of a book merchant trying to work his way through depression.
With his familial bookshop on the verge of bankruptcy, Simon finds himself retreating more and more to his cabin in the woods. After witnessing the suicide of a stranger, a childhood trauma involving his bullied best friend resurfaces and he withdraws even further into the past, estranging himself from his wife and his responsibilities. The only glimmer of hope is a young girl who needs help with her book review. But there is more to the girl than there seems to be…
Drawn with a fluid line that recalls both the rhythm and open-space approach of manga and the spontaneous line work of French artist Frederik Peeters, de Jongh surely aims high. I’m glad to say that most of the time she actually reaches those lofty heights.
Her heavy lines are accentuated by finer line work, and although some camera angles come across as forced and drawing cars is definitely not her thing, all is forgiven because of the strength of her black-and-white art, which emits a youthful exuberance and energy. It features great character work and excellent use of spotted blacks, particularly apparent in the various nature scenes and foreboding scenes in the cabin.
The protagonist is a an amateur ornithologist, and the book draws its title from a specific type of bird, a honey buzzard. Within that species, partners migrate by different routes to the same destination; should they meet at the designated spot, they couple; if not, they look for another partner. I think the analogy is a bit contrived, but there is a certain resonance, I suppose.
For a first graphic novel, the story has a good impact. De Jongh sticks to familiar territory with a story that is maybe a tad too predictable and thought out, but the main theme of dealing with a trauma, coupled with the bullying subplot and middle-age breakdown, is handled well and does not miss its target. The ending can be considered a bit too deus ex machina and sugar-sweet, with complimentary visuals, but for a first graphic novel it is a stellar effort.
Aimée de Jongh tackles burdensome themes in a graphic novel that doesn’t let itself get dragged down by its own seriousness. Her approach to trauma and depression by way of a disillusioned bookshop owner manages to intrigue by its beautiful and dynamic visuals and magical realism subplot.
Return of the Honey Buzzard (De Terugkeer van de Wespendief) by Aimée de Jongh is published in Dutch by Oog & Blik. It is a black-and-white hardcover counting 160 pages and retails for €24,90.
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