Few are the creators who can truly balance skills. There are few places where this is clearer than in sequential art, also known as “comics.” Often as collaborative as film, creative teams of up to four skilled professionals are routinely used on a project. Fortunately, this is only one aspect of the industry as a whole, things looking a little different in terms of independent comics.
Far from the superheroes and “events” of the Big Two (DC and Marvel), independent works tend to be more self-contained, even when they run for years. The Canadian creator known as SETH is a prime example, his series Palookaville running from 1991 until now. Featuring the stories of citizens residing in the titular fictional town. A degree of biography, if not history, common in the indie comics space.
Into this proud tradition of independent spirits, adding a touch of Continental flavor, is London-based French creator Lucie Arnoux with Je Ne Sais Quoi:The Adventures of A French Woman In London. Published in 2022, the 94-page hardcover edition collects anecdotal and biographical comics produced over years of traveling and the like, all while still doing a page a month for the legendary French comics magazine Lanfeust.
Utterly unfiltered, and with a disjointed sense of time to rival Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, Arnoux unflinchingly tells true tales of terror and wonder from her usually unusual life. Everyone is the hero of their own story, and this is hers. Fortunately, there is enough in the way of genuine oddity in terms of events, while still being almost painfully relatable, and genuine story-telling ability to make the trip interesting.
In addition to her candidness, Arnoux is also a gifted humorist, her drawing style shifting, if subtly, to fit the mood of the panel. Veering from nearly Tintin style simplicity to the almost startling realism of Jean Giraud. The matching of the style to the mood, and juxtaposition between panels is often funny in its effect.
Arnoux is also a master of the dramatic irony to which sequential art lends itself so well. What is stated in the narration box does not always match what is shown, or even said, in the panel itself. Page 17 has a prime example, the third panel telling how Arnoux got her first full story to illustrate for the magazine.
The narration caption reads: “inspired by my promising skills, Loic Nicoloff gives me a short story to illustrate.” The panel, on the other hand shows Arnoux literally begging for an assignment as Nicoloff capitulates handing over an assignment saying, “alright just take that one!” while rubbing a literal pain in his neck.
Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Arnoux really did do everything herself. From the script to the pencils to the lettering. Each aspect bearing her personality, perhaps a little quirky to North American eyes, but fitting the story perfectly. The biggest stand-out is the littering. Clearly handwritten in a loopy sort of cursive, there are also few capitals, and little punctuation to be found. A little jarring at first, it has a gentle, pleasant flow once you get the hang of it.
Born in the far north, T.S. McNeil was attending art galleries before he could walk. Earning concurrent degrees in Art History and Political Science, he has written on Arts and Culture both in print and online since 2002, starting while still in college. He lives in a cabin in the woods with his dog, and firmly believes that Marie-Gabrielle Capet was criminally underrated.