Picturesque Portugal by Pedrosa


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Ex-Disney animator Cyril Pedrosa sketches a semi-auto fictional heimat full of spontaneous emotions and humour.

One of the most lauded OGN’s of 2008 was Three Shadows by then newcomer Cyril Pedrosa. A haunting and phantasmagorical tale of grief and sorrow. It tugged at the heartstrings of the young and the old and I suspect Pedrosa’s latest graphic novel Portugal to do no less.

French cartoonist Simon Muchat - who may or may not be related to fine artist Alphonse Mucha - suffers an emotional and existential crisis. While being a guest at a comic convention in Portugal, he reconnects with his roots, deciding to stay extend his stay for a longer duration. He takes the opportunity to spit into his immigrant family history hoping for a cathartic effect.

The first thing you notice about the book is its immense bulk. Oversized and wrapped in an exquisitely drawn hardcover, Portugal clocks in at over 250 pages of story at thick paper rivalling Craig Thompson’s Habibi in terms of weight. The comparison doesn’t stop there either. Both excel at a type of storytelling that is founded on a sense of wonder and emotional honesty. Unfortunately both also tend to get lost in their own point of view, walking a fine line between emotional revelations and naivety. But let’s start off with the good bits.

Just catching a glimpse of the cover makes you stand up straight with the promise of graphic wonders to behold. Leaving behind his cartoonish approach of Three Shadows and AutoBio Pedrosa has adapted a graphic and spontaneous line that lies somewhere between the works of Gipi and Nicolas de Crécy. His characters breathe emotion and spontaneity. Backgrounds excels at conveying the passionate states of the characters swerving between detailed outlines and rough brushwork. Lines often intersect and run through each other adding to the sketchy feel of the drawings, mirroring the emotional instability of the people involved and further layering the storytelling.

Coloured both by Pedrosa and a mysterious person referred to as Ruby, you’d never know the difference between the two. It perfectly compliments the feel of the story and is to be seen as a separate layer of art, worthy of a study of its own. It lend texture and depth to Simon Muchat’s inner cosmos. Drowning some scenes in eerie moods, others in vibrant colours. It showcases a range of pastels I’d never thought possible.

The story however meanders a bit and more often than not falls into the pitfalls of generational conversations being a substitute for character development and story progression. As far as the story goes, depressed-man-changed-by-reconnecting-with-family-heritage about sums it all up. And even though Portugal is more about the journey than the getting there, it does disappoint with what could have been. Luckily Pedrosa is too much the consummate professional to let it slow the reading process down. He injects Portugal with plenty of humour and odd characters enlivening conversations and situations which I suspect will be what appeals to the general public.

Being a semi-autobiographical tale, the cathartic effect for Pedrosa always lingers on the edge as being perhaps more effective on a personal level than it is as a translation into a satisfying story. His protagonist plays the depressed introvert too naive, lending a stage to family stories over and over again to ever come across as a full character. This essential absence of connectivity feels as the biggest failure of Portugal if not for Pedrosa’s graphic and storytelling tricks saving the day again and again, making sure that the book still progressives quite nicely towards a satisfyingly open ended conclusion.

Cyril Pedrosa’s Portugal present a major creative step for the artist but not so much for the writer. A graphical masterpiece molding linework, colouring and storytelling into an explosion of imaginative vision, it was chosen as the FNAC album winner of Angoulême 2012. And even though Pedrosa’s heimat-lite approach of Simon Muchat’s existential crisis doesn’t entirely convinces, Portugal is a stunning book that will make you dream for at least a few hours.

Portugal by Cyril Pedrosa is published by Silvester Strips. It is a full colour oversized hardcover clocking in at 266 pages and retails for € 39,95. The publisher's site also provides an extensive preview.

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  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jul 4, 2012 at 10:16am

    Which reminds me THREE SHADOWS is still sitting in my "to read" pile.

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Jul 5, 2012 at 4:21am

    it's a nice read but it has its faults. it keeps surviving my annual purge though which means I like it enough to keep it in my collection :)

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