THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘PARIS’ IS SPOILER-FREE.
by Kate Kowalski. There’s something delightful about observing other people. Witnessing their conversations, expressions, day-to-day routines. We all love people watching. A glance, a nod, a shared chuckle—this is how we feel interwoven in the world. In the past few months I’ve found joy in connecting with strangers again, even in brief shared moments.
I feel this delight in the panels of Paris. I linger over each splash page, trying to read all the little stories swirling around the main action. Smocked schoolgirls heading to and from school, an aspiring poet sitting at a café table, a lover’s quarrel unfolding on the street—these pages contain countless tales. All these little moments, the detail and attention given to them, create a bigger love story. Paris is a love letter to its namesake. To clarify, not a letter to the Paris of today, but to the one captured in old photographs and films. Paris is a love letter to the city as a fantastic place—one in sepia tones, where the everyday is romantic and anything can happen.
The cinematic inspiration is apparent from the first page as the story starts with a sweeping opening sequence that is evocative of some old film, complete with precisely timed credits and a cheeky title card. Turn on some Édith Piaf or Jacques Brel and pour yourself a glass of red (something French—Beaujolais?) to complete the mood. We begin with grand overhead shots of classic Paris street scenes, the Sacré-Cœur and Tour Eiffel in the distance. We move through the city without a word of dialogue, carried from panel to panel by music notes. Our main character exits her Belleville apartment, portfolio in hand—an artist. Movement is smooth between panels; we are being taken shot by shot on our heroine’s daily route until—a window bursts open. Enter our other lead: a young aristocratic woman, chastised by her chaperone. She looks out onto the city, yearning to take part in these bustling street scenes.
So there we have the conceit: two foreign women abroad in Paris. Our first introduction is to Juliet, an American artist working hard to cut it as the only female student in a classic art academy. Then we have Deborah, a British heiress withering inside a hotel all day, being used as a pawn by her family. Both leads are restricted in some capacity by their gender. Amidst this tension, a queer love story blooms.
Andi Watson spins a story with the sensibility of a classic Hollywood romance. Take Roman Holiday and make it queer (and set it in Paris). There are moments and side characters that queer up the story a bit more, but overall Paris feels a bit like an anachronism—a frothy, fun, nostalgic, black and white film about women falling in love. This is not a lesbian story of pain and anguish. This is a lesbian story about dates at the art museum, racing through the streets on a moped, and dancing in a jazz club. That’s not to say the lovers face no tension or hardship. There must be a turn-for-the-worse at the end of Act Two! But overall, the overarching shadow of societal oppression, while present, is not the focus of this story.
There’s something queer too about Simon Gane’s scraggly rendering of classic French tableaus. The linework is all angular—even round objects have bends and corners. During a walk through the Louvre, we see famous paintings and sculptures re-imagined in Gane’s peculiar and whimsical chunky style. We can see The Winged Victory of Samothrace, a Delacroix, and many, many Ingres paintings worked out in scratchy lines and block shapes. It’s a fun and funky lens through which to view famous art and a famous city.
The panels are absolutely brimming with lines and details. There’s a lot to look at. Gane uses this strategically to depict a busy city around Juliet contrasted with the busyness of ornate decor and finery surrounding Deborah. Almost every panel is cluttered and crammed full. A rare simple backdrop or moment of visual silence is also used strategically as a spotlight on certain key beats.
Paris is an indulgence; more than that it offers a type of nostalgia from which queer folks have long been excluded. Its romance is a queer rendition of a classic plot. It’s light and enjoyable, a clean sip. Where Paris really gets its allure is from its grander love story: one for a city, a time, a people. There is an acknowledgment to the work of many French Humanist photographers as visual reference in the back of the book. This post-war movement found the beauty in the mundane, the magic in the minutiae. With the emphasis and detail given to the background, Paris makes a strong homage to this photography and mentality. As our definition of “normalcy” is being rocked and re-written day to day, we should find those bits and be reminded of the beauty in them.
Image Comics / $24.99
Written by Andi Watson.
Art by Simon Gane.
The ‘Paris’ original graphic novel hits stores on May 25. For purchasing information, click this.