I recently finished up reading a stack of newish NBM books. I was surprised by Lulu Anew, a 2008-2010 French comic by Étienne Davodeau that NBM translated and published under their ComicsLit line in 2015. In Lulu Anew, the main character Lulu walks away from an unsuccessful interview and an unhappy marriage and into the unknown of the French coast. There, Lulu meets new people, stays in trailer parks and apartments at the goodwill of others, and meanders through time, decoupling herself from the domestic life that she has been trapped in for likely greater than 20 years.
I think that Lulu Anew is a very interesting comic to publish, from the perspective of its subject matter. It’s unusual, to say the least, to see the emotional and spiritual journey of a 40+ year old woman in comics form. Lulu looks worn down from years of labor. She has crow feet and other wrinkles, her hair is a mess, but she has a strength of resolve and a peaceful clarity that made reading the book a pleasure.
Davodeau uses a unique storytelling technique for Lulu Anew in that the story is being narrated around an outdoor table by a group of Lulu’s friends. The viewpoint character is constantly changing from Lulu’s friends, her husband’s friends, and her daughter.
The group of friends acts something like a Greek chorus for the story. They act as the ideal spectator/reader, mirroring the emotional reactions of the reader as the story progresses. With ancient Greek plays, however, the action occurs in front of the reader and the Chorus reacts or adds context to the story. In Lulu Anew, the Chorus is the story, and in that way, Lulu Anew is an outsider’s recounting of the action of a woman as she attempts to find freedom from an unhappy marriage. We get other people’s retellings of Lulu’s feelings and thoughts, but she is impossibly far away from us. Despite Lulu Anew being a story about Lulu, it’s not her story.
I think the outsider narration could have been played to a greater extent – the story as it moves feels like a straightforward retelling, when truly the perspectives of each of the narrating characters could have shifted the storytelling based on their personal history with Lulu. As it stands, it looks like different people are recounting the adventures of Lulu, but each of those people has the exact same voice.
The graphic novel is constructed using a limited palette, sepia/brown hues and cool colors making up the largest part of the book. This palette effectively conveys a time of transition. You can feel the fall air blowing the leaves off the trees as you watch Lulu wander the streets of rural France.
Because of the group of friends gathered at Lulu’s house retelling the story,
Davodeau plays a little trick at the end of the book. The action of the storytelling ends with one of the characters in the group sitting everyone down to talk about Lulu’s trip, and takes the reader right back to the first page of the story. This circular logic of the storytelling starts at the end and ends at the end. The cyclical nature of the narrative reinforces the outsider nature of the storytelling – the storytellers must of course tell the story of how they got to start telling the story.
These narrative techniques make me as a reader recall parties that go late into the night over coffee and wine. They also invoke that old wistful thinking that walking away from your responsibilities can work out in a positive way. Overall Davodeau sells this narrative of Lulu’s personal transformation in a very unique way, and my only wish is that the characters narrating the story of Lulu had more disparate voices. That change would have made a good comic into a masterpiece. As it stands, though, Lulu Anew is still a graphic novel worth your attention.
Sequential State is running a Patreon campaign – if you liked this review, consider going to the Patreon page and throwing a dollar into the hat. It’d be much appreciated. Plus, there are some cool perks for higher donations!