Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Moving Pictures

This graphic novel for adults is set in France during World War II, as the Germans occupy Paris.  Canadian Ila Gardner is a curator at an art museum, and she is trying to catalog and hide the artwork of the museum, to keep it out of the hands of the invaders.  But German officer Rolf Hauptmann arrives, with the same goal in mind - but for the German Military Art Commission.  The book opens as he's interrogating Ila about missing artwork, then the narrative skips back in time to the events that have led up to this point.

Ila has a relationship with him, even though they are on different sides, wanting different things, and it is difficult to tell what the true feelings and agendas are.

There were plenty of things to like about this understated graphic novel.  The stark black-and-white artwork is an atmospheric backdrop for the events of the story, and it was very effective.  The story is related almost entirely through dialogue, and when characters are working at cross-purposes, their words cannot be taken at face value.  So there is a lot of reading between the lines as the story progresses.  The characters often have closed, unemotional faces, and there is a lot of verbal sparring.  I loved the role that artwork played in the story, too - particularly the way Ila and her friends spoke about it and interacted with the museum pieces.

I did find the story, at times, to be a bit too ambiguous and understated.  I think the downside of having characters that keep their emotions so much in check is that the reader may not be able to connect with them. I appreciated Ila's dedication to saving artwork (and to the pieces themselves, even the small, "unimportant" ones), but I didn't find myself experiencing much emotional resonance as far as the story went.  I also had a lot of trouble telling the characters apart - Ila and her friend (or her sister?  With the skipping around in time, it was hard to tell if they were the same or different people), the two men in the story - they physically resembled each other so much that I found it a bit confusing (although that might just be my own personal foible - I have the same problem with the characters in the Scott Pilgrim books).

The book itself is a lovely thing, with a thick, handsome cover and creamy, substantial pages - compliments to Top Shelf Productions.  I found Moving Pictures to be an atmospheric, thought-provoking read, and I look forward to seeing the next project from this talented husband-and-wife team. 

Moving Pictures by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen (Top Shelf Productions, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
Comics Alliance:  "...a sparse, bleak experience that moves with slow, deliberate steps through a world of deep, ambiguous shadow." 
iFanboy:  "It's all about inference. Which makes for compelling reading with a very steep learning curve. I was reminded of the crisp, if sometimes cryptic dialogue of David Mamet or even Hemingway."
Neverstated"It was a story I felt.  That is one of the highest praises I can offer any story, that it made me feel.  This story did that for me."


  1. I read this last month and to be honest I'm still not sure how I felt about it! But the art was indeed lovely, and I know I'm glad I read it.

  2. Well, despite the ambiguous review, I'm really curious to read this. I think the way artists behave under oppressive regimes is fascinating (but sad).

  3. Nymeth - I'm glad to hear you say that. I feel the same way! I'm glad I read it, too, though.

    Jenny - I guess I do feel a bit ambiguous about it - it was definitely an odd book. I'd love to hear what you think if you read it (and tell me what you think happened at the end, because I'm apparently a bit dense). :-)


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