Paco Roca’s elegant storytelling takes centre stage in this slim yet extremely satisfying tale of self-determination.
As he notes with great detail, in the book’s back matter, Paco Roca is the kind of artist who can’t help but tinker with his work, even long after its original publication. NBM’s North American edition of The Lighthouse no doubt benefited from a tweak or two before it reached our shores. One of the first things you’ll notice about Roca’s work is its sense of refinement.
That isn’t to say Roca’s style lacks soul. The exact opposite is true. The Lighthouse is a tender-hearted, if bittersweet, tale of self-discovery and self-determination. The plot is elegantly simple (or is that simply elegant?), telling the story of a young soldier named Francisco, who flees to the Mediterranean coast to escape the Spanish Civil War.
Suffering a head wound during his flight, Francisco nonetheless makes it to the coast and discovers a beautiful, old lighthouse keeping watch on the sea. He loses consciousness and wakes the next morning in the lighthouse, having been rescued from drowning by its keeper, an eccentric old man named Telmo.
At first embittered by his recent experiences as a soldier, Francisco eventually settles into life at the lighthouse. He and Telmo spend a lot of time salvaging washed up treasures on the beach, often with a mind towards utilizing it in the construction of the boat they hope will take them to the island of Laputa.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, as they say and so, Francisco eventually discovers that Laputa is a myth, a fictional locale pulled from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Further, he finds out that the lighthouse has been decommissioned by the government and that Telmo is a squatter, unable to give up his former purpose in life.
That’s about all I’ll get into plotwise, for now. Roca masterfully depicts Francisco’s despair and frustration, his need to escape a life he only ever fell into. There’s an impotence and aimlessness hanging about Francisco, when we first meet him that is undeniably absent by the end of the book. Desperate to escape the war, he determines his own path, refusing to sacrifice himself for a cause he never understood in the first place.
Roca’s clean, crisp storytelling and streamlined plot make for a quick read but the so-called lack of complexity is deceptive. A book this straightforward and unadorned has to be damn near perfect in its execution to be considered successful and Roca nails it easily. There’s a refreshing clarity of vision permeating every facet of the story, evident in both art and writing that draws the reader in with startling ease.
Light on its feet and imbued with a singular clarity of focus, The Lighthouse is a charming, well-crafted graphic novel from an emerging master of the form. Very highly recommended.
Paco Roca (W/A) • NBM Graphic Novels, $15.99