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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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02/19/2006 Archived Entry: "Graphic novel: baobab, Vol. 1"

baobab, Vol. 1
by Igort
Fantagraphics Books

Review by Tom Good

This graphic novel tells parallel stories that take place in Japan and South America in the year 1910. In Japan's Chiba prefecture, a young boy named Hiroshi listens to his grandmother tell spooky stories of her years in Africa, where the villagers believed that a monkey god lived in a baobab tree. A family disappeared into the tree and only a newborn baby emerged. As the grandmother tells the story, the eerie shape of the tree seems to appear as a shadow on the wall behind her.

The South American storyline concerns an artist named Celestino Villarosa who has never been able to distinguish waking from dreaming. Based on his dreams, he draws odd, fantastic comics about "Morvo, the man who swallowed up the night," who "converses with the souls of sardines," but his editor complains that his stories have become eccentric and incomprehensible. Celestino is given the task of creating a new, exciting story that will increase the newspaper's sales.

The two stories seem unconnected, at least for now, but both create an atmosphere of foreboding, and leave the impression that the relationship between them may be revealed in a future volume. The book is an oversize (8 1/2" x 11") two-color comic with quiet, understated art that reminds me of the classic art in Tintin. It is rare to finish volume 1 of a series and still have very little idea what the story is really about, but that is where I found myself after finishing this book. But the author does such a good job of creating an interesting mood that I will definitely stick around for volume 2.

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