‘A Strange & Beautiful Sound:’ Softcover Review

The world is a hectic place; there is a cacophony of good and bad things trampling over one another that makes up life. It’s understandable, then, that some people just want peace. But what is peace without that chaos? What happens when you think have the world figured out, and then when you have grown old, you find out it’s not at all what you think it is?  It’s a question that writer/illustrator Zep presents to us in this international sensation, A Strange & Beautiful Sound.

The graphic novel is an existential story that asks these question about life, and whether we are really just going through the motions and doing what we’re doing just for the sake of doing them.  Character William is a devout Carthusian monk, a man who hid away in a monastery for 25 years and stopped talking, even to himself. One day, he is summoned back to the world after a relative passes away and is forced to deal with the legal proceedings of the inheritance.  On his journey to Paris, this monk - who had taken a vow of silence - meets with a terminally ill woman and is forced to confront questions that he never thought to answer: Where is the value in life?

Truthfully, based on that synopsis alone, it doesn’t seem like that much of a page-turner. As the reader, you go in expecting the same kind of outline from the same kind of story: a man meets a woman and his life is forever changed. But that expectation is used against the reader.  Zep utilizes the seemingly common trope and presents us with a religious man, one who is strong in his convictions, and shows that life can be both beautiful and strange. He shows us a brand-new world that feels all too familiar by presenting us a man who already figured out what he wants in life: peace.  It’s an existentialist story, one that rivals that of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, another story about a man going through the motions of life, absent-mindedly looking for a purpose. But the difference here is that William isn’t a conduit for misery, but of wonder.

William has been locked away from the world for 25 years.  He even says that the news rarely reaches him.  The last significant thing he heard about the world was that Nelson Mandela had died, but it didn’t seem so important form where he was. What better place to show us the strangeness and wonder of the world than Paris? Through William, we can see the sensations and experience them as though we have experienced them for he first time, all while progressing the story in a natural and fluid pace.

All of this wouldn’t have been possible, however, if we couldn’t actually see what was going on in the pages.  Zep utilizes a grid-style format that is similar to Alan Moore’s Watchmen. With this layout, Zep is able to control his storytelling, showcasing the characters and the dialogue in a way that provides clarity and understanding to all of the questions that are being asked.  Zep is able to accurately and cleanly provide the layout of the world William sees, and that’s kind of the point.  William is a character who represents order and stability, but not in a boring or mundane way. The world he views is filled with wonder and clarity, and yet there is still a structured order to it. 

A Strange & Beautiful Sound is a journey about life through the eyes of a man who has been admittedly afraid of it. It’s respectable, beautiful, and deserves to have a place on your shelf.  We are presented with the story of religious man—one who is strong in his convictions—and through him, we are shown that life is beautiful and strange, and it should always be experienced before we make our decisions.

Creative Team:  
Zep (writer/illustrator)
Publisher:  IDW Publishing

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