Friday, August 26, 2011

Me on Tanpopo Volume 1

Title: Tanpopo Volume 1
Artist: Camilla d'Errico
Release Date: 2009
Published by d'Errico Studios

Edge and emotion bring to life the story of a mysterious young girl who makes a pact with the devil. Released from the machine that has been her only existence, she hopes to find happiness...Tanpopo Volume 1 was inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust: A Dramatic Poem. The play's tragic themes are carried throughout this graphic novel by Camilla d'Errico's manga-style artwork.

My second attempt at reviewing a graphic novel (my first was Hope Larson's Mercury). If this goes well, perhaps I'll start reviewing graphic novels on a semi-regular basis. ;)

Artist Camilla d'Errico combines stark images drawn in a manga style with passages from Goethe's Faust to introduce us to Tanpopo, a young girl who only knows what the machine tells her. She knows nothing of emotion, nothing of good or evil, nothing of what it means to be human. She is intelligent but emotionless, caught in the struggle between her mind and her heart. She does not live but survives, the machine's cold intelligence and guidance her only connection to the world.

Taken from Faust is the conflict in Tanpopo's heart, the decision to leave a familiar world for a new and possibly heartbreaking experience. We stay in comfortable situations because we fear the unknown, we don't know what is beyond the boundaries of our existence. Here is Tanpopo and the machine that provides knowledge but gives her nothing of the human experience. And so, like in Faust, in walks the devil to make a deal, in walks the promise of emotional experiences, in walks a hidden objective to own a young girl's soul. he gives her wings to fly away, to experience life as she desires to.

The artwork brings the passages alive, giving them a lonely face, a name, a joyless situation to leave behind. The loneliness in Tanpopo's huge eyes is so clear, the sorrow in her slumped shoulders and dangling hands. The devil Kuro is childish, playful, and cute, but disguises himself as The Poodle, a small, black figure. By doing this, his goal is to get Tanpopo to agree to their deal for her soul, keeping from her his ability to change forms. Including a boy.

d'Errico's drawings are stark, like a black pen was scratched across the page, hints and splashes of colour added later to highlight. Simple, but so much is hidden below the surface, so much to explore and discover.

It's hard to separate the words from the artwork because they are connected, one bringing so much emotion and life to the other. I feel I can only quote the website d'Errico has for Tanpopo (found here): "Tanpopo is not an illustrated poem nor is it a reinterpretation of literature. It is a unique visual and literary experience that combines a rare, open storytelling format with oriental aesthetics and character development, while bringing long lost or little known classic literature to today’s audience – both young and mature."

Tanpopo is more than a graphic novel, more than a unique experience that combines literature and illustrations. It is a story that cuts to the heart of us, a story about what makes us human beings, what we perceive and what defines us.

(Starting August 8th, Tanpopo is free to read online over at MTV Geek. A new section is posted every week until the series is completed.)

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