The painter Douglas Schneider once said to me that when he saw a great piece of art it was like getting a punch in the gut. He said a masterful work could knock the wind out of him with a fist of admiration and envy, making him stumble-run to his studio to get back to work.
For decades now in America, a belief has been growing that graphic fiction has high literary merit. Hey, I’m a believer. Yet, I find fewer examples than I’m comfortable with to support this belief. More titles than not give me a pain in the gut altogether different than those delivered by the shining fist of greatness. The French, however, have long respected graphic works, and in turn have been producing great books for years. Some even make their way to the U.S.. And one recently jumped off a shelf at the SFMoma bookstore to sucker punch me just above the groin.
Pinocchio, by French comic artist Winshluss, the pen name of Vincent Parronnaud, is not to be mistaken for either the glossy Disney story or some new imagination-less remake, but is a contemporary riff on iconic characters, weaving a complex story of creation and destruction, hope and heartache, humor and tragedy, predominantly through progressions of wordless panels. Winner of the esteemed Grand Prise at France’s Angouleme Comics Festival in 2009, this book has just made it to English translation in a gorgeous hardcover edition from Last Gasp.
Here is the publisher’s description:
In this dark rendition, a greedy Geppetto builds Pinocchio as a metallic weapon of war, while Jiminy Cockroach is a homeless squatter living the good life in Pinocchio’s skull. Exquisite drawings by celebrated cartoonist Winshluss bring to life a rich tale of greedy fools, lust, sadness, redemption, and hope. Teamed with brilliant colorist Cizo, Winshluss creates an epic adventure through a lush world. Each page is perfectly composed — not a panel is wasted. The artwork is primarily done in pen & ink and watercolor, but switches to paint for larger splash panels, referencing a range of illustrative styles and history from late 18th century pen and ink, to early French film pioneer Georges Melies, through early Disney, and underground comix.
Winshluss does indeed employ different mediums to tell this tale, and what you need to know is that he chooses his materials and styles to convey the emotional power of each vignette within the overall arc of the book, and executes them with the utmost skill. His aim is to tell us a story, and he employs all of his talent and intellect to do so. And yes, the book could be called dark, but, like many exceptional works, through darkness shines something brilliant about life and storytelling.
There is an imperceptible distinction between creative dissatisfaction and the drive to get better. Are we driven to accomplish more because we’re dissatisfied? Or are we dissatisfied because of the constant drive to accomplish more? And if satisfaction is ever achieved, is that when drive is neutralized? There’s no need to answer right now. Mull it over, and the next time you’re at work either procrastinating or flush with inspiration, ask yourself again. For now, get this book. Read it and enjoy it for the simple pleasure of engaging with a good work, but be prepared to get a knot in your stomach, because rarely is visual storytelling this good.