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Erica Friedman Guest Reviews Beautiful French Graphic Novel "My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill"

Hey, AICN's anime and manga columnist Scott Green here, with a look at an attention-worthy graphic novel that doesn't fall into the domain of my regular pieces. Fanfare/Ponent Mon is a unique publisher. They release a selection of translated manga that don't look or read like the popular titles with which many associate the medium. This includes works like Kazuichi Hanawa's chronicle of regimented life in a low security prison "Doing Time", Kan Takahama's dark short manga short stories, "Monokuro Kinderbook" and Kiriko Nananan's minimalist story of the relationship between two young women, "Blue", as well as a host of titles by the European comic inspired artist Jiro Taniguchi such as "The Walking Man", "The Quest for the Missing Girl", "The Ice Wanderer" and the manga adaptation of "The times of Botchan". These releases are highly regarded, but ones often require luck to stumble onto in a bookstore shelf. As such, it's worth browsing their site, and seeking out what catches your eye. Fanfare/Ponent Mon's releases are not limited to manga, and one of the interesting titles on which they've worked is a translated edition of Jean Regnaud & Émille Bravo's award winning French graphic novel "My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill." From Fanfare/Ponent Mon's description: Jean, an adorable 5 year old boy, relates his daily life and little adventures with his sour-tempered teacher Madame Moinot, his busy dad, his nanny Yvette (the Queen of iced chocolate), his little brother Paul (with whom he keeps fighting) and his neighbor Michèle (whose parents own a kennel) ...all the small and funny things that seem to make him an ordinary boy. But Jean feels a great emptiness inside. With sensitivity and emotion, but never lapsing into melodrama, Bravo and Regnaud tell their story and remind us that children are not the only ones who would rather invent than deal with reality. Previews can be seen here and here. The book was showcased at the last New York Comic Con. I personally couldn't attend the event, so I sought out reactions to what seemed like a potentially remarkable release. I was fortunate enough to hear back from Erica Friedman, writer of the Okazu blog, the president of Yuricon, and publisher of the lesbian manga anthology Yuri Monogatari, the sixth volume of which is available soon.

So, AICN is grateful to be able to post Erica Friedman's thoughts on Jean Regnaud & Émille Bravo's "My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill"

A small child with big fears, questions that can't be asked, adults who won't answer in any case and the absence of a much-missed mother is the setup for "My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill" by Jean Regnaud & Emilie Bravo, published beautifully by Fanfare/Ponent Mon. The text of the story is simple. Jean is a young boy, beset by fear and unable to comprehend his family situation. His life revolves around the absence of his mother, the simple and obvious fact that all his peers have mothers and that his father is not giving him any useful information about the situation. As a result, the gap created by his mother not being there grows exponentially to become a hole that he simply cannot fill. The art employs muted colors for this muted story, but the images are evocative and immediately translatable to scenes from one's own childhood. Scary, mean-looking teachers, the casual cruelty of peers and unreasoning loyalty of childhood friendships, all these are things we remember having happened to us, but can no longer feel as adults. Surprisingly simple art cloaks extremely complex emotions which, when left unfulfilled, turn into a nagging fear that something is terribly wrong. The book itself is beautiful, with thick, cream-colored pages and a bright turquoise and orange hardcover binding. As Stephen Robson, publisher of Fanfare/Ponent Mon said, this "smells like a real book." There are no dialogue balloons, the narration is instead set off in dream-like clouds. It evokes the feeling of being a children's book but, although it tells the tale of a child's quest, I would say that it is clearly written from the perspective of an adult looking back on a childhood full of lies and unspoken things. I'm not sure a child would sit still for the story. And there are harsh truths behind the story that, if they were old enough to follow the unspoken cues, could be very upsetting to a child. When reviewing a book like this, there's a strong temptation to force some tie to Oedipus or Psycho, or some other epic search for or obsession with Mother. But the truth is, this book is in no way an epic story. It flirts with epic status as a neighbor provides an ongoing narrative from Jean's missing mother, tracing her (ultimately fictitious) voyages around the world. However, in the end "My Mommy" is neither an epic tale nor a horror story. It is a journey from unblissful ignorance to the relief of having to deal with the unpleasant reality of truth. The story as told by Regnaud, imagined by Bravo and reproduced with such careful attention by Fanfare/Ponent Mon, is simple and realistic. Where it lacks a grand finale or deep conclusion, the book ends, at least, with a smile.
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