One summer and two young lives, separated but inextricably linked. That’s the essential premise of Belgian artist Max de Radiguès’ Simon & Louise, the translated version of which comes to us from the ever diverse catalogue of Canada’s Conundrum Press. The book’s teen protagonists Simon and Louise are facing the prospect of being apart for a whole summer when Louise departs for a long-stay family vacation by the coast. Shortly after Simon spots that his girlfriend’s social media profile now lists her as single and he makes a brash decision to run away from home and pursue Louise across the country. But things may not be what they seem and the more the he tries to reunite with her, the more fate’s coincidences and misunderstandings contrive to keep them apart…
In de Radiguès’ cleverly constructed parallel narratives we view two worlds that are intimately connected but in this bubble of time converge only tangentially, and yet just enough for the ripples of that brief confluence to change their situations forever. Both characters’ stories are told in discrete sections, all working towards the same linear endpoint. It’s an approach that emphasises the fallibility of our perceptions and how individual perspectives on events can be accurate from their own viewpoints and yet, contrastingly, wildly different in interpretation.
We view both Simon’s haphazard hitchhiking trip as he encounters a procession of sometimes eccentric travelling companions and locals, and Louise’s less fraught but, in its own way, still emotionally confusing seasonal idyll. Colour is used skilfully to add environmental atmosphere to the locales the characters interact with from the lush and verdant countryside to the urban retreats, while de Radiguès’ physical characterisation is as communicative as ever through the clarity of his cartooning. Pedestrian translations can so often wreck the narrative impact of comics work so an added mention for Aleshia Jensen here who ensures the dialogue stands out with its credible and believable depiction of teenage behaviour.
Simon & Louise is a book that perhaps defies expectations and its destination is not necessarily the one readers will be expecting to arrive at. That’s also one of its great narrative strengths though. There’s an existential verisimilitude to Simon & Louise that’s so profound that it leaves us with a sense that somehow their lives and stories will continue to exist and progress somewhere off the page. It’s been a big year for Max de Radiguès with truly excellent books from Conundrum, Nobrow Press and Fantagraphics. Simon & Louise may just be the best of that impressive bunch.
Max de Radiguès (W/A), Aleshia Jensen (T) • Conundrum Press, $18.00
Review by Andy Oliver