The Bonds Of Friendship sees the return of The Bellybuttons in their third book with high school girl talk, fights over boys, bitchy asides and heavily stylised art. Indeed everything that I would normally avoid like the plague in a graphic novel, except for one vital piece of information – The Bellybuttons is a brilliant series.
High school girl Karine, the tall one, is much put upon by her two malicious friends Vicky, with the blue eyeshadow, and Jenny, with the green eyeshadow, both of whom have been trying to become the girlfriend of the motorbike riding and permanently helmeted John John. The enmity between the two girls over John John in the last couple of books now moves into all out war which Jenny appears to have won while Vicky consoles herself by chasing the hunky new basketball teacher.
In the meantime, Karine’s boyfriend Dan is introduced to the pretty and almost too nice to be true Melanie and both Vicky and Jenny use her in their continuing attempts to try to drive a wedge between Karine and Dan.
Published as Les Nombrils in Spirou magazine, The Bellybuttons is created by French-Canadian husband and wife team of writer Maryse Dubuc and artist Marc Delafontaine (Delaf). An ongoing story told in mainly one page segments, The Bonds of Friendship is so well written that you soon forget that it was originally one page per week and get absorbed in Dubuc’s story of the ongoing efforts of both Vicky and Jenny to get one over on the other.
Running alongside this is Karine’s shock discovery of why John John always wears a helmet which keeps the reader on tenterhooks until literally the last page of the book. If ever there was a book that you cannot flick through because of spoilers then this is it because of that one last page.
Delaf’s art suits the story well with the boys all being drawn in a laid back and fairly lifelike style while the girls are drawn in much more extreme styles which suits their characters. He draws the new character of Melanie as less caricatured than the rest of the girls, as suggested by her rather normal and likable character, however as the story progresses and Dubuc throws up questions about her trustworthiness, it will be interesting to see how or if Delaf changes her in the next book.
The Bellybuttons is probably the strongest of all Cinebooks humour titles and certainly one of the newest with this book originally being published as Les Liens De L’Amitie in 2008.
Interestingly Dupuis tag Le Nombrils on their website as “all audience” ie all ages, and it is a strip that appears in Spirou after all, while Cinebook tag the books as for ages 15+. I’m with Cinebook on this one as this is very much a teen book and not for younger readers.
The first book of The Bellybuttons that I read was the second one, It’s Ugly Out There!, which surprised me as to just how good it was. The Bonds Of Friendship shows that it was not a fluke and that this superbly written series is definitely one to look out for.
• There are more details of The Bellybuttons on the Cinebook website.
• There are more details of Les Nombrils on the Dupuis website (in English).