By Juan Diaz Canales and Teresa Valero
Art by Antino Lapone
Publisher; Europe Comics
Review by Peter Duncan
New York society is often depicted as sophisticated, elegant, and cool, at least on the surface. The TV series, Mad Men, which dealt with the advertising business of the 1950s and 60s revealed that beneath that perfect façade, the real story was of a white-knuckle ride of excess and pressure to succeed that destroyed businesses, marriages and left those who could not keep up abandoned and destroyed as casualties of a merciless and pointless Darwinian struggle.
Gentlemind, a new graphic novel from Europe Comics, ploughs something of the same furrow. Set more than twenty years earlier and in the magazine business, it too looks at the cost of ambition and the consequences of the compromises it demands.
The story is written by Spaniards Juan Diaz Canales and Teresa Valero, best known for their work on the Blacksad series, they met in 1990 when they both worked in an animation studio and have been friends ever since. Canales divides his time between writing for comics and animation and supervising the production of animated TV series and feature films, while Valero continues to work in television and film, and teaches at the University of Madrid while writing her own new comics.
Artist Antino Lapone worked for an advertising agency before turning to comics. He worked for Disney in his home nation of Italy and has published books with major French comics house of Glenat and Dargaud.
The plot weaves the stories of three characters, who move together and drift apart, touching on other’s lives. It begins with Arch Parker, a talented, but struggling magazine artist and his girlfriend, Navid. In a sequence of disjointed and jarring episodes, Canales and Valera let us watch as their relationship is torn apart by the pressures of financial survival and personal ambition.
The script is remarkable. In this opening sequence, the main, devastating, events occur between the panels of the comic, and are neither named nor fully explained, and yet the reader understands exactly what has happened. It’s a masterclass in storytelling, with the unpleasant decisions and petty betrayals left for the reader to surmise for themself.
Enter Puerto Rican, successful, celebrity lawyer-for-hire, Waldo Trigo, who has reached the point in his story where he can afford to begin to recover his morals and scruples.
Their stories merge as Navid, wealthy but alone, disregarded by the high society crowd she gave up so much to join, comes together with Trigo to run a men’s magazine, Gentlemind. The very magazine that set-in motion the disintegration of her relationship with Arch Parker.
Navid turns to women to write for her magazine, arguing that that it is they and not the, old, stale, and all-man bullpen of writers, who ‘really’ understand what it is that their all-male audience really want.
Episode one of the series is very much, Navid’s tale, the story of an ambitious woman seeking, “The American Dream” in a time when that dream was for men only. It’s the story of what is stripped away from her, what she gives up willingly and what she is prepared to lose to get a change at the success she wants.
Gentlemind is also more than 80 pages of some of the most beautiful, stylish, and understated artwork I have seen in any comic. Antonio Lapone’s washed out colours and distinctive line style somehow combine a grotesque mutation of Serge Clerc’s version of the European clean-line style with a real elegance, in a way that occasionally hints at the anthropomorphic.
Colouring throughout is muted, sparse and expressive. Browns and blues are predominant, evoking the atmosphere of old black and white movies and the stylised facial expressions say as much about the characters, as the writers.do with their words.
Overall, this is one of the most beautiful comics I have seen for a very long time.
Every month, it seems, Europe Comics comes up with a new title that confounds my expectations of comics. Of the limits of the type of story that can be told and the storytelling techniques that can be used. I shouldn’t be as surprised or excited as I am to read them, I should have got used to this by now – but I haven’t.
English speaking comics fans have missed out on so much great European material and we have lost potential readers who think that comics are defined by the super-hero, sci-fi or war genres.
Books like Gentlemind show what can be done. That comics are not a “genre”, but a medium, “The Ninth Art”, one that can tell any sort of story to any reader. With Gentlemind Volume One, Europe Comics have once again left me impatient for a second volume. I wonder what they have in store for next month.