"Hearts of Sea" cover detail by Cyril Pedrosa

“Hearts at Sea” by Cyril Pedrosa

I enjoyed “Hearts of Sea,” but it won’t be for everyone.

There’s two points I need to make about this book that will likely guide you in your decision whether or not to read it: It’s a more literary comic, and it’s done by a former Disney animator.

Now, we need to weigh those two points to see if it’s something you might like.

Literary Comics?

"Hearts of Sea" cover by Cyril Pedrosa

“Literary” might be too loaded a word here. This is hardly “Of Mice or Men.” Let’s see if I can explain this.

First, the plot summary:

Jean-Paul is a shy, slightly gawky young man leading a rather unremarkable life in which his oppressive mother is all too present. As the anniversary of his father’s death approaches, he feels increasingly dissatisfied with his life, and increasingly aware of his loneliness. It’s time for things to change. So, without telling anyone, he embarks on a singles cruise and takes his first steps in a brave new world.

There’s more depth to this book than that.  Jean-Paul is a very interesting character, and this book is completely character-driven. It’s about the author showing us who this damaged character is, how he traps himself in a life he doesn’t like, and the crazy thing he does to get out.

“Hearts at Sea” doesn’t feel like your typical three act story structure with feel good rom-com ending. If you’re looking for a story that’s good guy versus bad guy leading to a climactic showdown, look somewhere else.

Jean-Paul takes the active step to put himself on the better path, but in the end doesn’t do the 180 degree turn you might expect. I don’t think a complete character change in the course of these 48 pages would have been believable. This is more of a book about a process, not about a change. It’s about starting the journey more than anything else.

 

The Structure of It All

Jean-Paul jumps on board the cruise ship

From a structure point of view, it feels like this book only has two acts. The opening act shows us his life at home and how he feels so trapped in his world. Then, the second act begins when he makes a bold decision to do something about it.

There’s not really a third act. There’s no final showdown with a ticking time bomb just when everything feels like it can’t ever get any worse. Instead, things get slightly crazier, decisions are made, and — le fin.

I have a feeling some people reading this book will think the end is a cop out, or that it doesn’t fulfill the promise of the premise in the predictable way they wanted.  If it did, they’d complain this was a cop-out, of course….

I don’t think either is true. It’s just an ending that doesn’t come with a brassy John Williams swell of music behind it, you know?

The Art is Beautiful

The thing that drew me to this book in the first place was the art.   I saw this book a week or two ago while I was browsing the Europe Comics offerings on comiXology.  It looked bright and energetic, but I wasn’t willing to spend the whole $8 based on three preview pages.

When the book came on sale for half price this week, it was a no-brainer.  Even if the story wasn’t up to par, at least I’d have a lot of interesting art to look at.

Characters talking at the pub

 

In that, Pedrosa does not disappoint. This is a book that in another artist’s hands could be a boring, stiff read.  Characters sit around a table at a pub.  A character sits alone at a bar, or off to the side at a dance party.  Another character makes phone calls to a series of people.

We’ve seen all these scenes in comics and, short of some sparkling dialogue, they stop the book dead in its tracks.  It’s a stiff chore for the artist to draw an establishing medium or wide angle shot followed by a bunch of closeups with stiff hands or generically mild faces chewing through word balloons to get to the end.

Heart at Sea: Mom acts in a series of panels that could just be a talking plain head.

Pedrosa’s art, though, is never boring to look at.  Characters never sit still and just talk. Even if the panel is just a head-and-shoulders shot, there’s life to it.  He does more than just properly connect the head to the body.  He shows life and energy in every panel, which adds to the storytelling. You really can see what the character is feeling, just from the body language.

Pedrosa draws acting

He’d be perfect to draw a Bendis comic, don’tcha think?

His character designs are interesting, too. I don’t know that there’s a named school for this kind of thing, but if there is I’d like to know so I can see who else fits into it.  It’s a very animated approach.  They look like slightly more angular and bent Disney characters from 20 years back, before CGI took over and everyone turned into a kewpie doll with enormous eyes.

Just look at Jean-Paul throughout the book.  He always has a slight hunch to him.  His lack of self-confidence and his desire to hide from the world is right there in his body language.  The peppy cruise directory is always standing up straight, with gestures that are warm and inviting to her guests.  The spry younger woman on the boat is light on her feet and prances about the boat like a dancer.

The colors in the book come from Walter, who keeps the art clean, separating out foreground characters from the backgrounds.  It’s not airbrushed looking, and it’s not effects and texture-driven. It’s just well-picked colors with some shadows along the edges.  The color scheme is warmer, with some good combinations of colors I wouldn’t normally expect. It’s a great look for this style of art.

 

Recommended?

It depends on if you’re going to be thrown by the story structure.  This isn’t a book where everything rolls up into one giant package with a neat bow on top of it. It’s more laid back and cerebral.

If you think the lead character is just a loser and can see him only as a failure, then this book is likely not for you.  Look at it as a character study of a person you might see a small reflection of yourself in, though, and it might just be a worthy investment of your time.

It’s a lower budget independent movie, rather than a Hugh Grant romantic comedy done by the formula.

It’s outside of a lot of the kind of thing I’d normally review here, but I like it a lot. In fact, in going over the book repeatedly to write this review, I grew to like it more.  That’s a good sign.

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #23.)

5 Comments

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    Reply
  • JC Lebourdais February 20, 2017 at 10:34 am

    Pedrosa is an interesting choice. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by him, but from your review I’m not sure I would like it. Autobiographies usually bore me anyway. From his Wikipedia page, Pedrosa worked for Disney on the Hunchback and Hercules in the late 90’s, so your analysis of his style is quite insightful.
    Silly question maybe, but do you notice any trend in the decisions of which material is made available in English or does it feel random to you?

    Reply
  • Augie February 20, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    This one isn’t necessarily autobiographical. I think it is completely made-up. And, yes he worked for Disney Animation during their low point in the 90s, but that was also during the brief window when the French studio was open, so there are a few French artists who’ve been around for twenty years who worked there at the time.

    I wish I understood why certain books are translated and others are not. The EuropeComics label/collective isn’t even a year old. I have a feeling that we’re seeing the companies and imprints and creators who were willing to take the chance first. Some of the books that aren’t translated yet aren’t even available in French, digitally, in North America. I have a feeling there’s some contractual issues there.

    The rest of it is just a slow roll-out and seems completely random to me. I don’t see a pattern yet.

    Reply
  • JC Lebourdais February 20, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    That’s a good point you’re making, contractual issues might be just the thing. I seem to remember reading something a while back about some French authors being ripped off by their publishers who “forgot” to pay them for foreign / digital sales because their contracts weren’t tight enough or they didn’t have the legal leverage to enforce them. Many artists and writers here barely make minimum wages; or at least not enough for a decent living. French welfare doesn’t apply to freelancers. I even wonder if some are aware that their work is available overseas. We don’t have guilds here and the kind of structure American creators do.

    Reply
  • Augie February 20, 2017 at 10:20 pm

    I think the situation is similar between France and America. Artists working for Marvel/DC who actually get a page rate are still freelancers, for the most part. No benefits. They have to pay their own taxes, take care of their own health care, and have no guarantee of a job after the current one. Some artists have exclusive contracts with Marvel/DC; the big win there is that they are treated like employees with benefits for a year or two during those contracts.

    The creator-owned stuff like at Image is all risk from the creators. They don’t get paid a penny until month(s) after the book is released, if the book sells enough to make a profit. The bonus there is that they control all the rights and can make deals of foreign publishing or Hollywood stuff (movies, video games, TV shows, etc.)

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