Story and art by Étienne Davodeau
Publisher: NBM Publishing (2012)
Length: 158 Pages
Much like Disappearance Diary, Lulu Anew promises a deeply introspective experience, one that explores the soul-sucking mundanity of domestic life, and the mindset one must possess to drop it all. Unfortunately, that insight is never truly given. While I commend the piece for describing this experience as a harsh necessity arising from burnout, as opposed to projecting romanticism on escapism, the reader remains completely detached from Lulu’s journey. She never intends on sharing her experience with others, leaving the reader questioning why this piece was created in the first place.
Coming back from a failed job interview, Lulu laments her current position in life. An unfulfilled housewife, spending a majority of her years sacrificing everything for others. To the surprise of friends and family, she decides to temporarily make them the sacrifice, as a change of scene seems to be the solution to her issues. This graphic novel documents Lulu’s brief journey around coastal France, her adventures, and her loved one’s attempts at dealing with her absence. They are the ones who piece together Lulu’s story, and then relay it to the reader.
A discussion about Lulu’s morality seems a necessity when exploring this piece, even if it doesn’t really happen within the comic. What Lulu does, to be frank, is wrong. It’s implied that the characters relaying her story know that, and so a discussion on morality isn’t needed. Unfortunately, this absence of judgement really hurts the piece. I didn’t need characters to explicitly say that what she was doing was wrong, but they have to say something, considering arbitration is the role they’ve been ascribed. It’s almost ironic how the comic attempts to explore a highly personal journey Lulu undergoes, yet others speak on her behalf throughout the entire piece. It could be argued that such a profound, introspective experience could never be articulated, and that the journey itself was for her and her only. But if that’s the case, then why bother creating a piece around it? If it’s something I’ll never be able to extract anything meaningful from, does this not suggest I’m wasting my time?
The lack of both justification and explanation may have been mitigated if the story was compelling on its own, but the characterisation was very generic; along Lulu’s journey she find meets a potential love interest, his doting siblings, an older lady wanting the excitement back in her life and an angsty young adult struggling to find herself. It irritated me how much they admired Lulu for what she was doing, and how Lulu herself tries to induct a disciple, who’s problems she assumes can be solved by running away too. These scenes identify a derailing of the original plot that occurs in the second half. What was at first a recalling of a housewife’s clumsy attempts at escaping her reality soon becomes a un-enjoyably indulgent adventure in which she creates a party of individuals to escape with. The way she meets, interacts and befriends these characters descends into pure fantasy, and is more off-putting than endearing.
The artwork in this piece was good, but never exceptional. The depictions of various landscapes around coastal France were a highlight, almost nostalgic in inception, but was quality in its own right . There is a clear distinction between romanticism and beauty in this piece, and the art upholds this idea by ascribing normality to the cozy towns Lulu visits. However, artistic detail, particularly with characters in this piece seems to be substituted for the use of colour. While the colour did add to the mood, with washed out colours accentuating a sense of melancholy, I would have preferred more detailed illustrations, which would have helped develop the character’s ability to produce emotive expressions (which is why I gravitate towards reading manga). This meant that at multiple times, the construction of faces and expressions seemed quite awkward or abnormal. I liked what they author attempted to do with the character design. Lulu’s lover is not an attractive man, nor does he seem particularly charismatic. She does not befriend a bunch of colourful characters over her tale, and their appearances reinforces this, further separating itself from this romantic sense of adventure that may be ascribed to a character running away. But designing “unattractive” figures with the illustrative style did not normalise them, because Davodeau’s story still bathed them and the story in Clichés.
Another issue that I had with the story was the way in which Lulu goes about attaining contentedness. It seems unsustainable, often crosses the line of selfishness, and arguably leads to pain for all the characters she meets. I can empathise with the difficulties she’s facing, but having a character run away from her issues (and children) seems a weaker message than having her reflect on her life and make changes systemically. The coming of age/epiphany genre is a very tired one, and this piece doesn’t stray much from it. In fact, it strips a lot of the structuring in an attempt to inspire profundity through minimalism, but is unflattering to the narrative. Ultimately, I found Lulu Anew disappointing. I never felt part of a deeply personal or profound experience, nor did I feel invited to. The art’s shortcomings also prevented this piece from being at least refreshing to flick through, and so I remained an outsider throughout the entire experience. If the idea behind this was to create feelings of detachment within a reader in a genre predominantly dealing with vulnerability, it was achieved, but was not enjoyable for the reader. I could only sympathise with Lulu from afar, because she never let me in.