Jérôme Ruillier - The Strange
(Drawn & Quarterly)
The first Jérôme Ruillier release translated into English, The Strange charts the tragic journey of a nameless, anthropomorphic dog as he attempts to build a new life as an undocumented immigrant in France.
After travelling from an unnamed country using a fixer, the protagonist faces a seemingly endless sequence of trials and tribulations owed to nosey neighbours, exploitative bosses and Kafkaesque French bureaucracy. The fragile nature of his position is exposed immediately upon arrival, as a well-meaning stranger calls over a policeman to help with directions, forcing the terrified protagonist to slip away in the urban sprawl.
Based on real immigrant accounts provided by workers of activist group Réseau Education Sans Frontières (Education Network Without Borders), The Strange blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction, creating an allegory for the desperate situation many immigrants face in the pursuit of new existence in the West.
This kaleidoscopic view of immigration spans a diverse range of perspectives, from callous politicians and their policeman enforcers to sympathetic activists offering respite from predatory landlords. Even passing birds and household pets are given voice, but never the protagonist. Ruillier’s hunched, awkward protagonist speaks only in indecipherable symbols, mirroring the disorienting and isolating effect of his inability to communicate in this new world.
Each chapter is punctuated with real life quotes from right wing mouthpieces, including Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen. The inclusion of these quotes describing immigrants as ‘gangs of thugs’ with ‘ways of life very different to our own’ make grim reading among the backdrop of Ruillier’s cast of innocent looking animals, acting as a stark reminder of the fascist undertones increasingly precedent in modern politics.
Depicted in frantic pencil sketches complemented with reds, yellows and browns, Ruillier’s urgent, surreal artwork gives each panel a feeling of unrest, painting a chaotic world that keeps the plot lurching forward to its heart-breaking conclusion. Affecting and poignant, The Strange is a deftly told exploration of the struggle facing undocumented immigrants at the hands of a hostile European state.