Monday, July 16, 2012

Chasing Inspiration: Bubbles and Gondola

Bubbles and Gondola (NBM) is an odd little book.At its essence, it's a book about writing, or rather, a book about inspiration. Artist Renaud Dillies poses an interesting idea in the course of this story about a mouse named Charlie: inspiration is sometimes scary, a thing to be avoided. Writer's block is a result of fear as much as it is a lack of ideas. Over the course of the book, Charlie (a writer), comes face to face with the emissary of Solitude, a bird who offers him all sorts of helpful advice. Charlie is alone in order to work, but the solitude of the desk and his fear of inspiration causes him to constantly waste time. His feeble attempts at writing all end up on the trash heap, the result of being on the titular gondola ride that simply circles around and around. Charlie shares a meal with his family, attends a carnival, winds up playing in a band at a bar and throws back a few as he battles this vertigo. Despite the whimsical drawing and fanciful setting, one can't help but feel that this is an intensely personal book for Dillies. This isn't simply a book about writer's block, but about a specific kind of aspiration and the blocks against that aspiration.

Later in the book, Charlie talks to a city worker that the the lights he put up for the carnival are beautiful things that inspire happiness, if only for a brief moment. He compares it to a child blowing bubbles, to "make things prettier, and ultimately more bearable". He's getting at the existential purpose for creating art: to make things that inspire that sort of feeling in others. It's an awesome, terrifying responsibility if one thinks too much about the effect and less about the process of creation. It gets back to Lynda Barry's invocation of the two questions that destroy creativity: "Is this good? Does this suck?" An artist cannot think about the impact of a potential work and create at the same time, and that gets to the heart of this book. That theme is carried out with a falling motif: Charlie is afraid to fall and afraid of heights, and is constantly put in that position in this book. When he finally drunkenly falls from a lamp post and then later drops a beloved coffee mug, the impact of both events frees him. In a sense, the ship painted on the side of the coffee mug is now freed from his own imagination, which allows him to free his own imagination and start to write.

Dillies' anthropomorphic style feels quite familiar, mixing George Herriman with contemporaries like Lewis Trondheim. The cute, whimsical nature of his drawings is given weight with page after page of dense hatching and cross-hatching. The book's muted color pattern also reminds me a bit of reading a children's fairy tale book of some kind, an idea further advanced with several dream-like sequences. I thought the art acted as a counter to the intense nature of Charlie's struggle; the cuteness of the characters belies their sense of pain, just as it's impossible to immediately detect emotional anguish in someone at first glance in real life. The fantasy sequences further serve to deflect Charlie's angst, even as Dillies circles closer and closer as to why his mouse is suffering from writer's block. It's difficult and even painful at times to create something beautiful, especially when the artist spends a lot of time trying to figure out if something they create is beautiful as they're creating it. The answers to the two questions must always be made by others, which is both incredibly difficult to swallow and the only way an artist can be productive. Dillies suggests that embracing fear is the only way to overcome it and reach back to the simple feeling of being a child blowing a bubble--or scrawling something on a piece of paper.

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