Mamma Mia cover detail
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Mamma Mia! v1: “Just the Girls”

Three generations of mothers end up living together and the tension between them leads to comedy. It’s love and antagonism 70 years wide in a gag-a-page comic format that’s a lot of good-looking fun.

Credits Through the Ages

Mamma Mia cover
Original Title: “La Famille a Dames”
Writer: Lewis Trondheim
Artist: Obion
Colors: Hubert
Translator: Lara Vergnaud
Letterers: Cromatik Ltd.
Published by: Dupuis
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 2019

What’s Going On?

Single mom, Aurélie, and her daughter, Emma, move in with Aurélie’s grandmother (Nana) after Aurélie loses her job. It’s a temporary stay until she can get a full-time job and provide for her daughter again.

Around the same time, Aurélie’s mother, Sophie, returns from living the carefree life in Brazil to move in with Nana, too.

Emma is curious about Sophie's absence

You can see the story in your mind already: Single mom struggling to get by, grateful for her grandmother but struggling against the insufferability and lifelong selfishness of her own mother. The grandmother who loves them all, wants them out of her house, yet secretly and obviously loves having the girls around for company.

And, of course, the daughter of modern times who plays with toys and then complains that everything doesn’t have a screen or the internet. She is honest only in the way a six-year-old who doesn’t understand how everything works can be. (Also, she’s honest in the best possible way that Lewis Trondheim can write.)

The four Mamma Mia women doing different things in the same room

It’s a comic book sitcom, totally. There’s a joke at the bottom of every page. There’s no single plot running through the book, but there are some running gags and situations that repeat for laughs in different ways. There’s a single father at Emma’s school, for example, who has some interest in Aurélie. She’s not as eager to return it, leading to some awkward and funny moments.

Aurélie’s mother winds up being the brunt of most of the jokes, being that’s she’s also the kookiest and furthest out-there character. She’s the one who stands out the most in the book: She’s not in this situation due to a bad break. She’s created her own self-centered life, and now it’s starting to come back to bite her.

I’d be interested in seeing if Trondheim plans on redeeming her in some way before this series ends. There’s room for a serious character arc here, but part of me also wonders if the damage isn’t done and she’s irredeemable. What kind of mother practically abandons her daughter like that?!?

Nana is a lot of fun. She’s a little thing with big white hair and coke bottle glasses. She’s quick to annoyance, but with a heart of gold and a hidden smile that lights up a comic book panel.

The stories take place around all the common locations you’d expect. It’s mostly at home, but with a good segment taking place at Emma’s school and the playground. Aurelie and Emma are the center of the book, but they share plenty of page time with everyone else.

In the end, the book is funny and it’s relatable. Even if you aren’t living with four generations of family under one roof, you recognize the struggles of bringing up a child and dealing with your family, along with the generational gap issues and the fresh eyes only a child can bring to the world to make us question our most basic assumptions.

The Art of Obion

Aurélie dreams of vacations with Emma

I love Obion’s art. It’s perfect for this book, but it’s also attractive on its own merits, particularly with the coloring style added onto it by Hubert. (Sadly, Hubert died last year.)

Things are generally bright and colorful, with a final look that looks like Hubert used digital tools to imitate several different brushes to bring about a more natural feeling. It might be a mix of watercolor and digital, but I’d bet on purely digital. Some of the color shapes are just too perfect, and the texture patterns have a slightly repetitive nature to them if you zoom in super close.

It’s a very bright and colorful scheme, using mostly warmer colors. The pinks, reds, and purples stand out across the pages. The colors are not overdone, but are also more technically detailed than you might think at first. There’s a lot of gradients and textures being used here, often in very subtle ways. It’s a wonderful coloring job that adds a feeling and a style all its own to the book.

Page layouts are four tiers of panels on every page with up to three panels per tier. There’s a lot of room on every page to develop a thought and end the page with the zinger.

It’s a very chatty book, but that’s not something I noticed while reading the book. There’s always something else going on in every page. If it’s two people sitting in chairs across the room from each other reading, there’s a movement happening in the background that will eventually be the focus of the gag.

Emma explains where her daddy went

This is not illustrated radio. Trondheim’s scripts give Obion plenty of opportunities to sell each gag with the mannerisms and the facial expressions of the characters. It’s my favorite technique in comics: Don’t have an entire conversation in one panel. Spread it out over many panels and be sure that every line is sold visually to go along with the line of dialogue. The gestures and the body language sell every line of dialogue. There’s not a wasted panel in the book.

Obion does a great job in setting the scenes with detailed backgrounds, but can also pull back and spotlight the characters front and center while dropping everything out behind them.

He also uses no panel borders. I see this a lot more in Franco-Belgian books than I see in North America, particularly among slice-of-life books or more biographical pieces. It also holds true in humor books like this. It gives the pages a bit of a lighter feel. There’s a lot going on with every page, but there’s never a problem following the story without the black rectangles boxing everything in.

This is a panel to show how colors fill out a background without bleeding out to the panel borders

It is interesting to see how the art is still constrained to a box, though. In the second panel above, you see colors and line art both being cut off where a panel border would be. Your eye naturally fills that in, and the white guttters help keep things separated.

In the first panel, the line art gets cut off, but the colors sort of splash around in the background. They don’t bleed all the way out to the edges of the virtual panel. It gives a more organic feel to the art.

The character designs are also great. Obion has unique silhouettes for all the characters in the book. While they all have bigger heads, Nana is the short one, Aurelie is slightly taller and skinnier with straighter lines, while Sophie is rounder and more full-figured.

Three generations stare up at the night sky

Naturally, Emma is the smallest of them all, but has a huge face that Obion uses in the most cartoonish ways. Her eyes are dots and her mouth is a big oval. She hasn’t developed enough yet to have full eyeballs except for moments of extreme expressions. Her eyebrows remain high on her head, and the whole combination gives her an honest and expressive face for every moment.

OK, But Just One Quick Bit About the Lettering

Lettering sample from Mamma Mia v1 to show its script font style

This script style font is fairly common in Franco-Belgian comics, particularly with autobiographical comics and slice-of-life comics.

It’s legible. I can read it. It kind of fits the style of the comic.

But I still am not a fan of script fonts. There were definitely times in reading this comic that I had to squint to tease the letters apart. I can only imagine how much fun reading it is for a younger reader who never learned cursive in school.

Other Books in this Style

This style of BD is one of the things that attracted me to BD in the first place. You don’t get much humor in the Direct Market. Humor comics are rare, but they’re a major part of the Franco-Belgian scene.

Here are a few of the books I’ve reviewed over the years that are in this format:

Gomer Goof v1 cover by Franquin
Gomer Goof by Andre Franquin. Volume 2 cover
Gomer Goof v3 cover ("Gone With the Goof") by Andre Franquin

Gomer Goof: You can’t get more classic than Andre Franquin’s super popular creation. Gomer destroys things and makes a mess of the world with his inventions on every page of his series. I’ve reviewed the first three books.

Cover of Pico Bogue by Dominique Roques and Alexis Dormal
Young Mozart by Augel cover
Bigby Bear v1 cover

Pico Bogue: Like “Mamma Mia!”, this one features a young child with an open mind and a curious heart. He causes trouble with some of his difficult questions.

Young Mozart: The title says it all. Yes, it’s a comedic take on the musical legend. I’ve only reviewed the first book, but there is a second one out now. There’s also now a “Young Leonardo” book along the same lines.

Bigby Bear: This one is a silent comic with a gag-a-page. It’s aimed at younger readers, but is just as enjoyable for adults with imagination and creativity.

Game Over v14 cover
Back to Basics v1 cover
Back to Basics v2 cover

Game Over: This one hasn’t had an official English language release yet, but it’s also a silent comic.Every page ends with “Game Over” in English already. This would be the cheapest book to translate, ever. Every page is about a boy trying to save the princess and failing miserably. Either or both usually die. Darkly comedic, but hilarious. You can pick up the French edition on Izneo.com. 15 volumes are currently available. There’s no continuity. Jump in anywhere.

Back to Basics: Manu Larcenet and Jean-Yves Ferri combine to tell the semi-fictional story of Larcenet’s move to the country from Paris. It’s a different lifestyle and a place filled with new characters for him to get used to. Larcenet has a very cute, comic strip style for this one, and it’s one of my favorites that I’ve ever reviewed. I linked the first two above to get you started.

Recommended?

Mamma Mia cover

Mamma Mia! is a fun, light-hearted comic that’s super easy to read and not terribly deep. But it IS a lot of fun. It’s often predictable, but it’s also always charming, humorous, and well drawn.

At the very least, take a look at the preview pages that Izneo shows you and give it a chance. It’s great cartooning work.

Buy It Now

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