Artist (and everything else): Julie Rocheleau
Published by: Casterman
Number of Pages: 184
Original Publication: 30 August 2017
Original Publication (digital): 11 January 2018
A Loss and a Loser
The book starts with a beautifully evocative nightmare. We see a woman, Betty, in bed with a man, both naked and asleep. Quickly, crabs come out of the shadows, crawling over her, circling her left breast, holding it up to the light (in a beautifully inked page), and then — she wakes up in a hospital. She looks down, sees that breast missing, and screams in terror.
A wig by her bedside and her head bald, it’s immediately apparent that she’s recently had a mastectomy. And that’s what this book is all about. It’s about a woman coming to terms with losing the left half of her chest, and everything that comes along with that. The self-doubts, the embarrassments, the loss, etc.
Veronique Cazot does not make a medical drama out of it with her script, though. This isn’t a depressing biography with a third act change of heart based on some outside influence.
Well, OK, it is about how she gets through this process and comes to accept herself with her new image. As the book’s description start:
She lost her left breast, her job, and her guy. She does not know it yet, but this is the best day of her life.
Cazot gets there by taking some imaginative directions. Her script travels beyond the grounded drama of a soap opera and opens up into a more dynamic, visually-engaging drama with elements of action, adventure, and farce. The heart of it is still Betty’s struggles with her body image, but it’s dressed up in a very entertaining way
And the book is 98% silent.
The No Good Boyfriend
Betty’s issues with her new look is not helped at all by her boyfriend, who is portrayed in the book as being a complete flake. He can’t deal with it. He passes out at the sight of her, even fully clothed.
I love the way artist Julie Rocheleau handles it in the first tier above. That little spotlight on Betty’s chest is a perfect way to show where the boyfriend is looking. And the sun in the first panel echoes the lost nipple, too. When he collapses, he doesn’t just fall. He melts. He changes shape as his body fails.
For obvious reasons, this makes her feel worse. It’s not that he’s mean or a creep, but he just can’t handle it. He’s a wuss, basically. An unsupportive jerk, but not mean.
Wait a second, I need a personal moment here:
When Doctor Stuff Doesn’t Bother You So Much
Maybe it’s just me. There’s not much medically that frightens me like this does to her boyfriend here.
I worked in a pharmacy during my college years. I learned to deal with handling any sort of question in a mature way, even when they were slightly insane or slightly gross. It’s medicine. We all have issues, and no one person’s is inherently sillier than the next. They all deserve to be respected, because it’s usually not their fault and they don’t want these problems either. Your job is to help. There can’t be discomfort there. Compartmentalize what you need to, and help.
Even though I’m not behind the counter at a pharmacy anymore, that’s always struck me as the mature and responsible way to live life. Fainting at the sight of a scar or avoiding someone at their most vulnerable time is just crappy behavior at all levels.
If he can’t help it, he needs to work on it. Or talk it out. Or seek help. Instead, he does nothing but make her feel bad. Repeatedly, despite all her best efforts to give him one more try.
He’s a jerk.
End of side rant.
Betty’s boyfriend isn’t the only trouble she’s having in the wake of her medical issues.
A Bad Time Gets Worse
Betty works at an upscale department store of some sort. It has very strict standards, and the boss is a crazy creepy woman with exacting standards. She’s like Anna Wintour in “The Devil Wears Prada,” but crazier.
Rocheleau draws her to be imposing and mean in this sequence, first, by drawing her physically larger in that first panel. She’s not really macrocephalic and 7’2″. That’s the artist reflecting how she looks to Betty at that moment. It’s an effective shorthand that helps tell the story as quickly as possible. That’s one of the strengths of comics.
The apple Betty likes to keep in her bra to maintain her shape isn’t holding up too well. When the boss sees the issue from her closed circuit cameras, she flips out and — this is where the book starts to show itself for being slightly surreal/over-the-top/satirical — sends Betty to a high end breast prosthetic store. Seriously, it has a glass-windowed storefront and everything. The owner is a lady who reminds me a bit of Edna Mode from “The Incredibles.”
There, she falls in love with (but can’t afford) the very expensive option. For $8000, it suction cups to your chest, comes pre-tattooed and pierced, and fits perfectly.
A Left Turn
Then the armed robbers come in and mess up those plans.
They’re your typical stock cast from Hollywood types.
No, wait, they’re not. They’re closer to something out of the 1960s Batman series.
This book has a very surreal and skewed look at the world, while centering on a very serious issue. I like that.
I like that it — and I just typoed “tit” there, amazingly — can start from a very serious and very sad place, and turn it into something that has elements of slapstick, action, and satire.
The book goes a step further into the fantasy world when she loses her wig in a big gust of wind. Next thing you know, she’s hopscotching across town on the rooftops to chase after it.
The sequence also involves a carnival, a cruise, a coffin, a cave, a canine, and a cart of apples. It’s the part of the book where you need to check realism at the door and just go with the insanity of the moment. It’s a fast scene over many pages, and helps to show off Rocheleau’s skills with handling storytelling in an action scene. And why shouldn’t a book about one woman’s sense of loss post-mastectomy include an action scene across city rooftops and through city streets after dogs, only to end in a palm tree at the river’s edge?
Oh, and did I mention she spends the entire book carrying around a small box that has her left breast in it? I’m pretty sure that’s not how that medical procedure works, but there’s a certain symbology for the book that works with it. It’s also a very early sign that this book is not as straightforward as you might have expected.
Silent Story Telling
I don’t think I’ve ever read a silent story about people that spanned more than 22 pages. (“Gon” and “Age of Reptiles” are animal- based.) While you may think that a silent book is a quick read because there are no words, my experience usually goes the other way. Without the words as a crutch to explain everything to you, your eyes tend to follow every detail on the page more carefully. The weight of the story is falling on your shoulders to follow. You can’t afford to miss anything.
Assuming the artist did her job — and Rocheleau does her job masterfully here — it’s up to the reader to pay attention to follow the story. Every inch of the page counts, because you never know where you are or what’s going on unless you see it in the art. Rocheleau throws every storytelling trick into this book to help her put across the story. It’s never a boring read.
This book isn’t completely silent. Following silent movie conventions, the chapter breaks are text cards that hint towards the next scene. It’s usually a short two sentence clip of dialogue that’s relevant to what follows. Late in the book, there’s a song or two performed, and some announcements at a burlesque show that includes actual words in balloons.
But I wouldn’t take any marks away from the book for that. It’s a major accomplishment to carry a story out this far without a line of dialogue. And Cazot and Rocheleau make that work.
The Design and Style of Rocheleau’s Art
Rocheleau creates a very stylish book that has a coherent design.
Design-wise, the very style of art that she uses in this book dictates the overall look and feel of the book. She goes with a style here that is deceptively simple. The art retains its energy from not being overworked in the figure work, but the backgrounds will often have all the noodling you can imagine an artist using, without ever feeling busy. It creates textures, lighting, mood, and emotion. She does it all with those little touches.
Characters, particularly in the Burlesque section of the book, are unique individuals in size and shapes. This feels like the character design work you might find in an animated feature, where they try hard to make characters clearly identifiable just through their silhouette. The proportions are often not necessarily realistic, but they work because they fit in the overall style, and they make characters identifiable.
(You can see the different characters at the burlesque in this panel, where Betty is thrilled to see all their wigs.)
Most of the location work has this sketchy quality about them. They’re often cartoony in their simplicity, then dropped in favor of some crosshatching or hinting at the shapes they represent. The action that you’re meant to follow and pay attention to — whether it’s the actions of the characters in the foreground or just their facial expressions — gets the attention because of that. When Rocheleau needs a background to set the scene, though, she still comes through.
She also creating a stylized look. Everything fits together in a cohesive design, but Rocheleau goes out of her way on multiple occasions to stretch “reality” to new degrees. Characters are often done in extremes to fit their personalities to tell their stories. You can see that in her boss, and even in the lightweight nature of her boyfriend.
Using the Comics Medium as a Storytelling Tool
Rocheleau is also good with symbolic visuals. These are the little tricks that tell a lot of the story with a simple visual touch.
When Betty’s boyfriend spurns her advances in bed one night, he doesn’t just turn around and go to sleep, he sleeps far over on the edge of the bed ten feet away. The bed obviously isn’t that big, but Rocheleau is showing everything in this book from Betty’s point of view. To her, the bed is a mile wide at that moment.
Betty calms down by picturing a meditative or yoga-like pose. This is a symbol that shows up again in the book.
And I’ll be darned if that sun doesn’t look like nipple.
Too bad her boyfriend is such a downer. She’s beaming from getting out of the hospital, and he’s bent over and drawn in the shadows (despite being in the same light) because he’s the downer.
The Award-Winning “Betty Boob”
A week before the 2018 Angouleme Festival started, “Betty Boob” received the Prix de la BD FNAC 2018 award.
FNAC is a major retail chain based in France with over 180 stores across Europe and Brazil. (Plus one in Africa.)
The prize is awarded based on a public vote as well as a jury of retailers, bloggers, journalists, and more.
They’re a major sales source for BD and winning this prize should be a big boost in sales for the title.
In English This Summer
“About Betty’s Boob” will be published through Simon & Schuster in June 2018.
I’m torn on that name. I’m guessing they tweaked it either for SEO purposes or for trademark concerns. I can understand the SEO issue. Googling anything related to “Betty’s Boob” gives you an autocorrected search for “Betty Boop.” Although, really, once you search for the word “boob” in Google, you’re entering a field of landmines…
They’ve also changed the cover art and design, for reasons I understand that I’ll expand on in the next section.
It’ll be interesting to see how they handle the lettering for all the singing and Burlesque stuff in the back half of the book. Moving from hand-written lettering to what will no doubt be a computer font is going to be jarring for me, but something nobody else will notice, most likely.
Update: Wait, there’s more. Simon & Schuster is the book market distributor for BOOM! Studios, who are the ones making this edition of the book. It’ll be available in the Direct Market at the end of May. The weird thing about this is that there’s a whole other cover included with the solicitation:
I’m not a fan of this cover.
I don’t see anything on BOOM!’s website about the book, either. I was wondering if I’d spot a fourth cover there, but no luck.
First, a brief note about this cover: Yes, when I chose the header image for this review, I made sure to cut the image off above her chest. Yes, I know: human body, sex and violence, etc. I think this review and the images I’ve shared are not hiding from anything, but I prefer to keep the front page as innocuous and as innocent and all-ages in as many eyes as is possible. That’s not censorship or fear talking. That’s just courtesy. I’m not here to debate cultural differences between Europe and America, or whether one is preferable to the other.
This is a minor heresy in the grand scheme of things. Once someone clicks through to read a review of a book called “Betty Boob” that I mention in the blurb has to do with breast cancer, the reader has consented, as far as I’m concerned, to see whatever I choose to excerpt here.
Looking up at this review now, I do see that I didn’t use any panels with nudity. There are a lot of those in the book. I didn’t need them to illustrate the points I was making, though, so I didn’t include them. They work for the book and in that context.
So, do I recommend this book?
Yes, it’s an interesting book. The art is different and easy to follow. The story is a bit out there, and the message is not exactly original, but it’s all done in a very charming, tasteful, and open way. Cazot and Rocheleau don’t go for shock or exploitation, nor do they hide anything. This is Betty’s story, and we see 90% of the book from her point of view.
It’s a heartfelt story told in an entertaining way.
— 2018.009 —
Here’s a teaser for the book:
During the burlesque show, there’s a song written expressly for this book. Here’s the Karaoke version of it. (Warning: Spoilers for the book, I’d guess, since this song is near the end.)
Buy It Now
You can order the Archaia print edition here:
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