Renee French‘s latest graphic novel, Micrographica, answers the age old question “What’s five inches by five inches, but as deep as the whole in your heart?”
Published by Top Shelf, this is a tiny, tiny book, able to fit snugly into the palm of your hand or inside a jacket pocket. What’s even more astounding is that if you read the tiny, tiny print on the inside cover, Renee says that she produced each drawing at “roughly one centimeter square” and if you go to the back of the book you’ll see exactly what that works out to. One of the panels of her book — and each page of the book is one panel — is laid next to a postage stamp. The drawing is about one-third the size of the stamp.
Renee’s reason for working so small is, as she says, so she “couldn’t add details.” But, she’s lying, obviously. Each panel is rife with depth, weight and detail. But, more importantly, each panel is heavy with pathos and emotional devastation. It’s also a funny animal book.
Her characters here are primarily four rodents. We mostly see them in close-up, with the occasional full body shot when the action calls for it. But we get to know these guys from their giant bulbous noses poking into each frame as their verbal barbs poke each other in the gut. The rodents, named Moe, Preston, Aldo and Nubbins, talk as if they are all adolescent males. I guess that’s one thing the self-imposed paucity of detail forced Renee to do. We can’t tell the age or sex of her characters from the drawings, but she nails the teenage male dialogue perfectly. While the rodents are all similarly drawn — big round, black eyes; little c-shaped ears; spot-covered backs — there are enough subtle differences to tell them apart without question. But, each rodent is especially clearly defined by his individual personality. Moe is kind of a smart-mouthed bully. Preston is a testy worry wart. Aldo is the nerd nobody wants around and Nubbins is the chubby know-it-all.
Micrographica is such a ferociously original work, I’m kind of loathe to compare it to anything else. But while reading this mini-masterpiece, I couldn’t stop my mind from thinking how much it was like the recent theatrical release, Superbad, a movie I loved, by the way. If you just replace the quest for sex in the film with a quest for balls of crap, then Moe = Seth (Jonah Hill); Preston = Evan (Michael Cera) and Aldo = McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). I don’t have an equivalent in the film for Nubbins, so it’s not a perfect comparison. However, it really struck me that Superbad was written by two guys, Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, and they started working on the script when they were just teenagers themselves, so it’s not too shocking that they were able to perfect the dialogue of teenage boys. It is shocking, though, when a middle-aged woman is able to do the same thing and with an eighth (or less) of the time and space to delve into similar issues of adolescent angst and desire for acceptance. It’s also amazing that just by drawing in just one centimeter square pictures, Micrographica can be as howlingly funny as a multi-million dollar Hollywood picture.
Filled with the uglier side of nature, Micrographica is also full of fart jokes, “your mom” jokes and other randomly immature insults. And behind the jokes and the quest for crap lies an extremely sensitive, heart-rending story. Renee may have wanted to leave out details from her artwork, but in so doing she has created what is a deceptively simple yet powerfully complex comic story.Buy Micrographica from Amazon.com!