by Blexbolex; trans. from the French by Claudia Z. Bedrick; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate Enchanted Lion 280 pp.
11/13 978-1-59270-137-7 $22.95
The French illustrator (Seasons, rev. 7/10; People, rev. 9/11) is as provocative as ever in this graphic celebration — and parody — of the very idea of story. Like Dr. Seuss’s And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937), Ballad compounds the fantastical — literally, here: each chapter has twice the pages, less two, of its predecessor (4, 6, 10, 18…); at 130 pages, the seventh and last chapter is half the book — just one instance of Blexbolex’s intricate crafting. Meanwhile, the story expands from chapter one’s uneventful walk (“The school, the road, home”) to closer observation of the real world before entering an imagined world and its characters (“the stranger” — storyteller, musician, hero; “bandits” resembling Pinocchio’s Cat and Fox; “the witch”). Each chapter begins with a précis, but it is Blexbolex’s square illustrations, captioned with just a couple of nouns, that convey the action and accumulate references—a queen, a kidnapping, a dragon, a volcano, mountains, a waterfall, a castle, a captive elf, night, storm, rescue, escape. Ultimately, at dawn, the stranger and queen arrive “home.” Blexbolex’s simple forms range in colors from gentle blues and greens to the arresting yellow of the stranger’s raincoat and his trouser’s fluorescent pink; coarse grids of halftone dots add modeling and subtlety to the elegantly composed scenes. An intriguing book — one to unravel, decode, and ponder in successive re-readings.