We seem to be living in a marvellous golden age of French language comics being translated into English, and in particular children’s comics, with Emmanuel Guibert and Marc Boutavant’s Ariol being a very welcome addition to the fold. This is the second book in the series from Papercutz, with more volumes promised for the future (Hooray!).
Both creators are stalwarts of children’s books and Bande Dessinée (French and Belgian comics), notching up dozens of books between them, notably Boutavant’s beautiful Richard Scarry-esque Mouk, and Guibert’s popular Sardine in Outerspace, both available in English. I must confess to not enjoying Guibert’s writing in Sardines; too many cheap punchlines and weak stories for my liking, but Ariol is a masterclass in understated storytelling and characterisation.
Ariol is a little boy donkey who lives in an anthropomorphic world where he goes to school with every sort of animal you can think of; ducks, pigs, goats, frogs, even anteaters. And in this world Ariol gets upto all sorts of everyday schoolboy shenanigans, including collecting stickers, fancying girls, or just chatting too much in class.
His boisterous best chum, the little pig Ramono, is a bit of a wildcard in Ariol’s life, egging him on to do things perhaps Ariol oughtn’t (cue horrifying scenes of breaking the chest of drawers in Ariol’s parents bedroom). Ramono very often takes the slightly square Ariol out of his comfort zone, if only a little.
But don’t get me wrong, Ariol knows his own mind well enough, whether it’s bargaining with his mother for a magic lasso, as sported by his comic book hero, Thunder Horse, or plucking up the courage to talk to the girl he likes in class.
For me, even though this book is aimed at children, each story really does tap into the nostalgia of growing up. The longer story of their trip to see Ariol’s grandparents brought back all sorts of memories of hanging out with my friends as an eleven or twelve year old and bumbling through a world ostensibly designed for adults.
And this is the key to what is at the heart of Ariol’s stories, the dynamic between the adults and the children. They try to understand each other, but like a couple of worn out old cogs, they keep slipping and misaligning. Kids will definitely relate to Ariol and his friends and their run-ins with the parents, teachers and shopkeepers.
Throughout, Marc Boutavant’s coloured pencil art is wonderfully simple, but keenly observed too, down to the old wooden handle on the book shop’s door or the uncomfortable teacher nervously scratching his scraggy beard. He brings a steady pace to the stories, nothing is over-zealous or over-acted and each panel, whilst clearly drawn, contains enough background detail and characters to keep Ariol’s world lively and lived in.
What I love about reading these books is the window on the world of Guibert and Boutavant’s take on French daily life. There’s a great sense of politeness and gentle respect that runs through the stories, the sort of social utopia us disgruntled Brits crave for. And having visited France and in particular Angouleme for the International Comic Festival for many years, I can attest to this rose-tinted view of life as being true!
So, when anyone, adult or child alike, next finds themselves feeling all grumpy about the world, I can think of no better place to escape to than the world of Ariol.
Page Count: 124 pages
Age Range : 7+