Artist: Pénélope Bagieu
Colorist: Pénélope Bagieu
Lettering: Studio Charon
Translator: Edward Gauvin
Published by: Delcourt
Number of Pages: 191
Original Publication: 2016
Who Is She? What Is She Doing There
“Blank Slate” is a 191 page graphic novel that begins with a woman, Eloise, waking up on a park bench in a French city, with only her purse with her.
She doesn’t remember who she is, how she got there, or why. She doesn’t even know her name. She learns it later on, but I’m including it already for the sake of clarity.
“Blank Slate” is the story of how she finds out who she was and can get back to living her life.
Written by Boulet and drawn/colored by Penelope Bagieu (of “Josephine” fame, which is also available on Comixology) , the book is a wonderfully detailed and believable account of what an amnesiac just might do in her first hours and days after waking up in an unknown world.
The book is filled with small moments. Things that we take for granted might be strange things when you remember nothing. The scent of shampoo, the brand of the candle, the password on the computer, or the address of the home. Some are minor, some prevent you from living your life. With enough patience and guile, though, you could probably get started.
Boulet’s script lingers in every moment, matching the endless thoughts that must be running through Eloise’s head. He structures the moments in this story to last almost uncomfortably long. Where do you go once you get off that park bench? When you find the address where you think you might live, how long do you stand outside before screwing up the courage to walk in? Which key on your ring is for the door? Do you fumble for that, knowing a friendly neighbor might have questions for you if you act like this in front of them? And, just before you walk through that door, what do you think might happen next? Nothing, or some crazy murderous scheme perpetrated by your cat?
The book goes into a few flights of fancy that way, breaking away from the main plot to explore small alleys of humorous alternate realities. They are entertaining, but they also show the possible break with reality in Eloise’s mind.
At times of major decisions in her life, she often runs through some crazy possibilities in her mind before taking action. It leads to some of the funniest moments of the book, but also endears the character to the reader. She’s a nice person, so you want to root for her. As confused and as crazy as some of her decisions might be, it’s not like any of us have ever been through that situation and know what we’d do.
Interestingly, she refers to her past self as a different person. She’s not sure that she’s not just stealing someone else’s body. Is she truly herself without all those memories? Is she invading someone else’s privacy, or just her own? The book never gets carried away with deep philosophical arguments, but it does casually touch on them in interesting ways. You might think about it, but it won’t distract you from the story.
She doesn’t want to deal with her family right away, so she starts with her job, where more clues pour out as she tries to figure out what it is she did and how it was supposed to be done. Does she join her co-workers for Happy Hour? Does she tell them all what’s going on? Or is the latest new shred of data she discovered going to answer all her questions without putting her in the awkward spot of bringing more people in on her situation?
“Blank Slate” is a real page turner. It’s a relatively thick book, too. It’s the pacing of a book like this that will make it or break it. You don’t want to string the reader along. You want to keep them moving, without having exposition dumps. There are a few conversations in the course of the book that fill up the pages early, but this is a story that is overwhelmingly told visually, in numerous ways.
Penelope Bagieu and the Art of Blank Slate
I see a lot of Boulet’s work in Bagieu’s art, but I’m not sure why.
Am I reading into this too much? Did Boulet provide breakdowns for certain pages? Bagieu has done some comics blogging in her life, so it’s also possible that she’s influenced by the same kind of comics as Boulet is. Maybe that’s the shared experience? Or were Boulet’s script descriptions so uniquely in his words that she couldn’t help but channel him in her work? I don’t know, but I can’t help but see a group of panels like this and not think of Boulet’s work:
Check to the look on her face in those last two panels, and the way her shoulders hunch up…
It’s sprinkled throughout the book, but I don’t want it to overshadow the work Bagieu does with it. It’s wonderful work, with a great eye for moving the camera around the scene, and for populating scenes with little details to add to the verisimilitude of what’s going on.
Her art is never crowded; there’s just enough “stuff” in each scene to ground the reader in the location, and to question how much of it might lead to a clue about the greater mystery of Eloise’s amnesia. So much of this book is taken up by the details, with Eloise looking at her surroundings to find something to hang onto.
There are times when panel layout and page designs collide. The sequential story takes a background momentarily to illustrating a moment. Seeing everything in a scene that Eloise might see is important, and presenting it in an interesting way keeps the book moving.
There’s also a double spread spread for a Flat Lay in Heloise’s apartment that’s amazing to behold. It’s so perfect and so modern. It fits right into the book and helps give it that current look. (Delcourt published “Blank Slate” about a year ago in France.)
Bagieu’s art style is very cartoony, with nothing drawn with a completely straight line. Not even panel borders needed a ruler. It’s an aesthetic that comes across looking very loose and energetic, though I’m sure it’s carefully crafted and the result of painstaking amount of work.
Eloise has a long neck to match her gangly arms and legs, big expressive eyes and mouths to convey every emotion. Bagieu does a great job in giving the reader insights into what Eloise is thinking just by the way she’s sitting, or how she’s looking away or looking up in awe at something. Things feel natural, even with the gross simplification of anatomy.
Bagieu also handles the coloring for the book, and it’s a great storytelling decision. The colors always reflect the mood of the situation. You can see above in the fantasy action scene how everything turns a cinematic bronze color during the shoot-out scene. The initial waking-in-the-park scene takes place, fittingly, at sunset, with the cool fall breeze blowing some leaves across the panels, and a fiery sunset lighting things up in an almost unnatural way. When Eloise is walking around at night, the scene turns blue and purplish, as you’d expect.
I probably shouldn’t enjoy the lettering on this book. It’s mixed case and the font looks very much like the letterer drew it by hand. But that also adds a certain amount of casualness, pushing away the more formal tradition all-caps styles we’re used to seeing. In a book that’s this personal and intimate, it makes sense to go for that look like we’re reading someone’s diary entries.
The whole style, including the balloons, looks slightly off. No doubt there’s part of that caused by being a translation from another language, likely with the balloons being reused and new words put in.
But I don’t hate it. I think it blends in nicely with Bagieu’s art style. It all looks so organic and handmade. It would be wrong to draw perfect ovals and perfect computer fonts filling them.
The original French title for “Blank Slate” is “La Page Blanche,” which is fairly literal. The book is available on Izneo.com, but not in North America. Still, you can read a preview of the first few pages. I took a quick screenshot of how one tier of panels appears in the original French versus the English translation. Take a look:
The French version is hand-lettering in script. Didn’t see that coming. It makes sense that the English language would use a mixed case style for lettering, then. I can’t see a cursive style working in North America, at all. The English version does, though, try to maintain the emphases Bagieu puts on the lettering in the French edition. When words appear in all caps or slightly large size in the original, the English translation neatly increases the font size or uses just the capital letters from the font.
This is a good time to mention that Edward Gauvin does the translation. The lettering comes from Studio Charon.
It’s good work.
Boulet and Bagieu nail the ending in an unexpected, yet totally satisfying way. They make a point about life, in general, with the ending. And that’s all I’ll say about it, other than to say we get just as many answers as we need to make for a satisfying story and no more. If you still have questions, you’ve missed the point.
And make no mistake about it, the hardest part for this book to pull off had to be the ending. You can’t drag a reader through 191 pages with one question to answer, and then not answer it. You can’t come up with an answer that feels like it belongs in another book. (During the story, Boulet and Bagieu even bring up ideas like the Men in Black and alien abductions. They laugh at them.)
That’s why the last few pages feel so satisfying. They give you an ending that completes the story and satisfies the reader.
Yes! Go get it now. It’s complete in one volume, so don’t look for additional volumes in the series. You’re done after one book, and you won’t be able to put this one down until you’ve finished it.
Then you can go back and read it again to see if you — and Eloise — can see all the clues.
(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #8 of 100 for 2017.)
Buy It Now
Surprisingly, Izneo doesn’t have the English language edition of this one.