Wednesday, June 27, 2018

D&Q: Genevieve Castree's A Bubble

Genevieve Castree was a local sensation as a young artist, drawing attention in the Canadian comics community for her minicomics. When she was ready to do her first long-form work, she went with Drawn & Quarterly and produced one of the best memoirs I've ever read in Susceptible. Her anthology work stood out wherever it appeared. Her combination of a delicate, almost fragile line with a punk sensibility gave her work a sense of both vulnerability and enormous power. That memoir was utterly unflinching in giving one of the most complex portrayals of family dynamics I've ever read. Her mother was frequently codependent, immature and even narcissistic, but there were also periods that Castree' treasured spending time with her, even if the boundaries weren't always the healthiest. Her father left her when she was five, but she reconnected with him over a decade later, and he gave her both the support and the room she needed in which to thrive. Castree described that book as purging a lifetime's worth of resentment and misery, opening her up to other things.

Those other things included a variety of multimedia projects, including a musical career both on her own and collaborating with her husband Phil Elverum's band, Mount Eerie. Some comics came with pieces of music designed specifically to go with them as part of the reading experience. She did a comic for the Drawn & Quarterly 25 anniversary book that was all about the comfort and warmth felt with various kinds of quilts. It was fitting given the family she had created with her husband and infant daughter Agathe. All of this made it all the more tragic when she found out she was going to die of pancreatic cancer. There was a period where she stopped creating art, then she worked tirelessly to create one last book. It was a book made for her daughter, who was two when her mother died.

That book was titled A Bubble. It's a children's board book, with each page featuring a single illustration, captioned text and word balloons. It's a charming story, told from the point of view of a child whose mother lives in a bubble. Her maman can't leave the bubble, but she can join her for naps, eating and drawing--the latter of which particularly makes her mom happy. She goes on adventures with her father and comes back to tell her mother about them. One day, the bubble breaks, and her mother is free. They go off to get an ice cream cone. And...that's it. Castree didn't get to finish the book. It's heartbreaking on so many levels, because book had just reached its second act and was starting to reach an emotional peak. On a side note, her friend Anders Nilsen finished the lettering and a few other small bits of art here and there. It's not immediately obvious, and most everything does look like it's from her hand. 

Of course, the central metaphor of the book is obvious. The bubble is Castree's sickness, preventing her from doing much outside the house. It's a story well-told, but the real attraction is Castree's unbelievably vivid illustrations. Her line and use of color are sublime, but it's the way she draws the interactions between child and mother that are almost too much to bear as a reader. It's so obvious that she wanted to leave something of her behind for her daughter, something intensely personal that let her know how much she was loved. I don't know where the story was going to go from there, but it seems like it was going to be about loss and how to react. We'll never know, but there's no question that the existence of this book is a gift, both for her daughter and her readers. 

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