The Comics Grid gives THE WRONG PLACE a glowing review!

“The Wrong Place - Brecht Evans” / The Comics Grid / The Comics Grid / May 19, 2011

The Wrong Place, by Belgian Brecht Evens, recently got an award in Angoulême for audacity, and it is easy to see why. The first thing that calls attention, just by glancing at the book, are Even’s loose watercolors, distancing himself from the expected emphasis on the trace and contour that prevail in comics. The surprise, though, is that The Wrong Place is more than just a beautiful book made by a skilful visual artist, as it is so common to find. Evens’s style comes hand in hand with a happy awareness of the mechanisms of graphic storytelling, and explores the possible combinations between word and image and the reading directions on the page.

The first part of the book takes place in a party, in an apartment. This specific page reveals those common small rituals and social codes so familiar in these festive occasions, when the guests are just arriving. The only character that we can actually see is Gert – the host, and protagonist in this part of the story (and even so, the author is economic to the point of just giving us Gert’s head, one hand and some contour of his back). The rest of the characters in the scene are only barely suggested: yellow and green circles indicating heads, shoes, hands, eyes, mouth. The same metonymic logic applies to the space of the apartment: if the door – as the place of arrival – gains a little more definition as it concentrates more activities, the rest of the apartment is suggested not by a delimitated space composed of floor, ceiling and walls, but by objects spread across the page (a lamp, a hi-fi and a photo frame) functioning as symbolic shortcuts for the whole.

Besides characters and scenario, the third – and most interesting – visual element that composes this page is the text. On the content level, what we have is a sample of the familiar small talk typical from these situations. The dialogues follow conversational patterns that make the flow very predictable and repetitive, with lines involving instructions on how to get to the place (Gert asks three times, with the same words “did you find it alright?”), followed by asking what the guests wish to drink, or remarks on the house decoration (“you’ve got the same IKEA’s chairs as us”) or guest’s figurine (“oh, you’ve got the same tights as me”).

The content (or lack of content) of the dialogues, is reflected in the way they are visually arranged. Here, it is not the silences that are meaningless, but precisely the need of breaking a potential uncomfortable silence and reduce the tension with any topic, even if just fillers. This purely phatic communication is translated visually, with words (more than anything else) filling blank spaces of the page. Everything that is said in this page is basically chatter to fulfill the function of initial bonding.

And this is also efficiently reproduced visually: instead of adopting a sequential order of panels, what we see are different moments developing in the same image, in the same apartment space, reproducing the same temporality and confusion existent in parties. It’s true that the absence of panels compromises a sequential order of events, but this is compensated by the text, that can still be read from top to bottom, in three diagonal lines that go from the top left of the page to the bottom right. That organization obeys not only a temporal logic, but also a spatial one, going from the door – where everything begins – to the living room inside the apartment in the adjacent page, creating a sense of progression and development. In the absence of balloons, corresponding colors help to identify who’s speaking.

These are only a few of visual solutions that make this book succeed in the task of integrating artistic skills to a larger narrative program. While it keeps the reader busy to figure out his way along the pages, offering a considerable variety of styles and reading possibilities, The Wrong Place avoids the temptation of gratuitous visual tricks and manages to maintain a coherent tension between showing and telling.

Share on Facebook
Share on Tumblr
Share via Email