June 7, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #10 (Love: The Fox by Frédéric Brrémaud and Frederico Bertolucci)


See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

Comics are inherently a visual medium and far too many regular readers forget this. For them, the story comes first and, provided that the art is good enough to follow the sequencing, it falls under the radar. With the industry itself going back and forth on the most important aspect of a comic, sometimes its nice to see how effective and capable the visuals can be on their own. Love: The Fox is part of a thematically connected series of books with the Love branding from independent publisher Magnetic Press; each follows a day in the life of a different species, providing a glimpse into a significant day in the life of a single animal.

It's easy to see how a book of this kind can appeal to the younger demographic. Not only does the story follow the titular fox, but it flits around to show the other animals that live on and around this location. However, you can look at these animals living in their natural habit, even as an adult, and enjoy watching them go about their day-to-day life; there's a reason why David Attenborough documentaries are famous worldwide. Whether peaceful or caught up in drama, there's something both soothing and intriguing about watching how a simple-minded animal reacts to and interacts with its surroundings.

As you read through the first portion of the book, you admire the inherent beauty of the art, but you do start to wonder how it's going to maintain momentum for another 70 pages; saying that it throws a wrench into their lives is an understatement. The instigating event for our dive into this world is the erupting volcano shown in the picture above. It kicks off a series of dominoes that, as the book progresses, start to come together in fascinating ways. There's a layer of complexity and narrative progression that you might not expect from a series like this.

However, it's worth noting that this book doesn't presume to give these animals defined personalities or characteristics; these are animals trying to survive and that's really all there is to them. Far too many all-ages books feel the need to anthropomorphise every creature. I understand the motivation behind it, but it can keep away older readers who don't want to feel like they're watching a Saturday morning cartoon. There's a quote on one of the first pages of the book that sets the tone of the book perfectly: "In the animal kingdom, animals neither love nor hate each other". Knowing this from the beginning prevents the sense of a foregone conclusion when reading; you don't know which animals are going to survive as there isn't always a clear protagonist.

You might think that, with the title of the book as it is, the entirety of the book is spent following a singular fox through their experience with the volcano. However, there's a scattering of parallel threads that wind in and out of each other. showing how so many other animals deal with the crisis; they come close to feeling invasive, but instead flesh out the wider world. One important thing to remember when reading this issue is that you need to throw all narrative expectation out of the window. You won't get a thematically satisfying conclusion or a allegorical commentary on anything; this is nature in its truest form and the progression doesn't matter.

Telling this kind of story requires an artist so in tune with the nuance and complexities of animal behaviour that you start to forget that you aren't watching these events in real time. Bertolucci handles the small details so adeptly and faultlessly that every animal feels both realistic and unique. Pieces of media like The Jungle Book and My Little Pony are allowed to steal little tics from human facial expressions, but that's thankfully something that Bertolucci avoids. These are unquestionably animals and he understands the importance of that.

The sequencing of a wordless story is understandably one of the most critical components. With an astute range of layouts, you're never under any doubt that this is a world that is constantly changing. Switching from intimate shots of an eagle eating its prey to to wide splash of a herd of rams climbing up a mountain, each page and each single panel feels significant and contributes to the establishment of a wider universe. It's a testament to the skill of both creators that they're able to create such a vibrant and established world over such a short space of time.

A review of this series would be incomplete without a discussion of the intricate detail in the art itself. It prevents the book from feeling like a quick display of animals for children and pushes it unquestionably into the upper echelons of quality. This isn't art that's been created for the sole intention of showing you pretty pictures; there are ancillary details that allow you to keep coming back for more. noticing instigating moments for later, more significant, events. Everything feels like it's been put into this book for a reason and spotting and connecting all of the little dots is part and parcel of the experience.

For example, the first time you read through, you might not notice the beginnings of the eruption can be seen far beyond when it explicitly appears. Little cracks in the ocean floor start to split and spread in the background of a panel and, as the focus is on something else at the time, it's only when you know to look for it can you start to appreciate the degree of forethought. I can't emphasise enough how much I'm looking forward to continuing to go through this and notice more and more of this superb attention to detail.

Something that might be written off at first glance as a children's picture book is in fact so much more. Books like this are the core reason why this column sparked into life. There's so much out there that appears to be a shallow ploy to draw in children, but in fact possesses that depth that keeps everyone of all ages coming back for more. I have no doubt that this series was created as a simple demonstration of the peculiarities of the lives of animals, but it's become something far greater. This is a series that hasn't come close to getting the attention that it deserves; these are two immensely gifted creators and you need to be buying their work. Everything about this screams talent and you need to get yourself on board.

You can find Love: The Fox on Comixology here. Check it out and you won't regret it. 


Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mark@thegreengorcrow.com or head over to check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.