‘A dancing pine tree, a surfacing sea monster, a wife splitting into sixteen pieces and reassembling’
Sometimes a person’s most fleeting glance, a throwaway comment, or simply their presence, can become fixed with significance, freeze-framed in the memory like a panel in a comic, there to revisit and linger over. The visual and verbal registers of graphic novels seem well suited to pinning down these butterfly-like subtleties, as this selection shows. In A Taste of Chlorine, a meek teenager reluctantly accepts his chiropractor’s orders to take up swimming to help treat the curvature of his spine. On his second visit to the pool, we gaze through his wide-open eyes at a young girl as she adjusts her goggles and cap, enters the water and stretches her arms, before pushing off to complete a vigorous width and back again. Keeping his head half-submerged, he floats alongside to study her, as she later walks beside the pool, letting loose her long black hair. His look of surprise and longing tells us everything.
Their first exchange is merely a goodbye, their second his awkward explanation of his spinal problem, but gradually a friendship grows between the boy, struggling and unathletic, who can make her laugh, and the girl, a champion swimmer, who gives him tips and encouragement. When she agrees to teach him somersaults, he smiles and replies, “Yeah, I trust you”, and they swim the backstroke in unison. But the message she mouths to him underwater remains tantalizingly cryptic. The young French artist Bastien Vivès is attuned to the vulnerability of adolescent physiques and feelings. He bathes these young bodies in swathes of turquoise, shifting from flesh-coloured outlines above the surface to grey-green abstractions beneath, transforming the swimming pool into a special space, fluid with hopes and desires.
The boundaries between love and friendship also feature in Empire State: A love story (or not). Jimmy Yee, aged twenty-five, is a single, Asian-American librarian, a would-be artist or web designer who has spent his whole life in Oakland, California, living at home with his mother and signing his pay cheques over to her. He sees no reason to leave, but when his friend Sara, a “nice Jewish girl” and an experienced online dater, tells him she is moving to New York, shy Jimmy cannot name a single reason for her to stay – because that single reason is him. With Sara gone, the words “New York” stare out at him from the books in the library. Then Sara sends him a surprise Strand bookstore bag, and Jimmy finally breaks free to follow her, crossing America on a gruelling bus trip, thinking he needs a passport for a domestic flight. Ever the romantic, he writes to arrange to meet her in the city he calls a “festering hellhole” on top of the Empire State Building, as in Sleepless in Seattle, but she doesn’t show up. Life in the Big Apple has changed Sara, and it will change Jimmy too.
Images from A Taste of Chlorine, Bastien Vives, 2011