Announced a year ago, August 14 will see the release of Idle Days from publisher First Second Books. The brainchild of writer Thomas Desaulniers-Brousseau and artist Simon LeClerc, the story is about a young Canadian man, Jerome, who refused to serve his country in combat during World War II. Staying out of sight, he takes up residence with his none-too-talkative grandfather in a forest house with a dubious past. The cover conveys tension as all eyes – Jerome, cat, dog, house and skull – are staring at the reader. The cover is not short on symbolism, as each item derives its meaning as the story unfolds.
Idle Days is a study of both physical and emotional isolationism, almost to the point of being horrific, as well as being a mystery with paranormal elements. It’s not an unusual narrative pairing of genres; however, Desaulniers-Brousseau injects an excellent amount of pacing in his story. The other-worldliness of the locale leaves the reader constantly guessing as to what is real and not real; the radio broadcast reports throughout the story seem like the wartime events are a world away for the characters and the reader, but the reports are what root the otherwise dreamy and surreal world through which Jerome wanders. Death is a theme that is intertwined in the story, and while Jerome grapples with it, others shun it as the “elephant in the room.” Also, there is abrupt dialogue amongst the characters which lends to the surrealism of the narrative. Desaulniers-Brousseau brings all of the story elements together into a fascinating and riveting narrative.
LeClerc’s illustrations are perfectly matched with Desaulniers-Brousseau’s narrative. The art is atmospheric; dark and hard to see through the forest trees, the visuals have a rich mysterious and dreamy tone. The colors run the gamut, but LeClerc never loses control of his palette. His art style is the result of a heavy technique of black crayon for thick, sweeping lines. He also uses oil pastels and gouache coloring that are then all layered in Photoshop (discussed in a Paste interview with the writer and artist, dated February 2, 2016, by Sean Edgar). LeClerc displays his expertise with this technique by consistently conveying each character’s facial details, so readers are be able to recognize and distinguish each character without difficultly. If there is one visual foible, it would be the speech balloons. Occasionally, the placement of a balloon led to misreading the correct sequence, and the very small “tail” of a balloon that indicated dialogue ownership periodically seemed to point to the wrong person. These issues were rare and may have been resolved with the final product. (I was reviewing an uncorrected digital galley.)
Idle Days is no exception to the exceptional graphic novels published by First Second Books. The story and visuals blend into a quiet, tense narrative that is unsettling, suspenseful, and a thoroughly engrossing read that will not disappoint.
Creative Team: Thomas Desaulniers-Brousseau (writer), Simon LeClerc (artist)
Publisher: First Second Books
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