What one immediately takes from Zidrou and Aimée de Jongh’s Blossoms in Autumn – a tale of love in later life and the newest book in SelfMadeHero’s range of European graphic novel translations – is the rather joyous proposition that, just because the majority of our years are behind us, it doesn’t mean that the best ones are as well.
This touching and tender story focuses on the relationship between its two protagonists. The 59-year-old Ulysses, a removal man recently made redundant is now finding his world directionless; his routine now consists of trying desperately to find something to occupy the long hours that stretch out in front of him every day and even his occasional visits to a sex worker seem resignedly perfunctory. Mediterranea is 62 and a former model who now runs her mother’s cheese-making shop after her recent death. She, too, finds herself alone in her later years and now the oldest member of her family.
These two existences come together when the couple meet by chance at the medical practice of Ulysses’ son, and slowly and inextricably their lives intertwine. Intermittently moving from first person narration to dialogue-led sequences, Zidrou allows the reader to witness events both from the perspective of the characters and as an observer looking in on this burgeoning relationship. It’s a gradual build as the pair discover both each other and some rather unlikely shared links from their pasts, leading up to a denouement that asks us to think about life’s cycles and the illusory constructs we place upon them…
Zidrou quietly brings us into the lives of the two characters, dropping small nuggets of information about their histories; both the seemingly trivial and the pivotal equally as important in defining them. The often worldweary narration of Ulysses occasionally directly addresses the reader, fostering a more intimate connection between us and the page, as his now tedious days are juxtaposed with his time with wife and childhood sweetheart Penelope. For Mediterranea the ageing process is a reminder of how her life has changed since her modelling days but smaller moments from her childhood – a key evening watching Snow White as a child and being terrified by the Witch – ripple through the decades with a powerful symbolic pertinence. Matt Madden’s translation must also be mentioned here, never feeling awkward or overtly literal in delivery, it’s a vital component in the story’s success.
As a creative collaboration this is one that feels symbiotic in thematic delivery. Aimée de Jongh’s visuals have a delicate and understated potency that brings these two lost souls to life with sensitivity and respect. The body language and posture of the leads is as important in establishing personality and state of mind as their narrated thoughts or conversational interactions and panel structure to reflect mood is sublime in its careful arrangement. An early scene of Ulysses contemplating his unemployed status at his kitchen table draws back in increments, giving a sense of a great passage of time between shots and underlining his depressed state. When Mediterranea contemplates her naked older body in a mirror two pages of multiple close-ups open up into a full-page portrait ensuring the reader, too, is fully immersed in her contemplative self-analysis. And when the couple’s relationship takes a more initimate turn the dissolving soft focus of the moment is subtly depicted without entering the realms of the mawkish.
Blossoms in Autumn is a raw, honest, poignant and quite beautiful meditation on love and ageing that manages to be both gentle and yet uncompromising in theme. SelfMadeHero’s Spring line-up is proving to be one of its most exciting batch of releases to date.
Zidrou (W), Aimée de Jongh (A), Matt Madden (T) • SelfMadeHero, £14.99/$24.00
Review by Andy Oliver