On a recent long night I decided that big eyes of the main character of Canopy had been staring out from my to-read pile for too long. A wordless comic is a tough sell to me, especially in these times of constant background anxiety, but Karine Bernadou's tale of the loneliness and violence within intimate relationships is a stellar example of the genre. The fact that this is a "translated" work only underlines the how powerfully Bernadou's images communicate--no words needed.
Have you ever searched family photos for clues about how it all went wrong? Canopy opens with a family portrait, a mother, a father and a darling stout red baby, putting us instantly on alert, pinging something that knows that portraits' posed unity rarely lasts. The next spread covers the red girl's childhood and adolescence, economically showing the ways a parent can fuck us up. From there we head out into a hostile world, where the possibility of change occasionally appears in the form of a sex partner and, well, we all know how that goes. There's a bit with sirens and a being looking to get lured away that I really liked; self-destructive partners are often their own siren song for the hurting. Each time the red woman seems to find a bit of peace, her desire to find/replace her absent father pulls her into another nasty situation. By the end of the book she's figured out a few things but the conclusion isn't sweet or even saccharine. If anything there's a melancholy to the character going on to her next adventure with wariness and more baggage than she started with.
Using only red for color, Canopy still manages to evoke a lush, if hostile, world, a forest place filled with biting animals and sentient plants. Bernadou's cute characterizations add a disquieting edge to the surreal and bloody situations she finds herself in, as do the prevalence of human features where one wouldn't expect to find them. I liked how the book played with time, especially through dream sequences. Each is like a mini battle for the main character and she usually doesn't win. Bernadou's pacing creating the sense of a long story being told in a short book and definitely rewards rereading.