128 pgs. full color | $19.99 hardcover | W: Lewis Trondheim; A: Hubert Chevillard
Roland and Fabienne arrive in a seaside French village on a blustery summer day. Roland plans to have a major discussion with Fabienne and has the trip planned down to the minute…until, that is, he dies, unexpectedly and violently. Fabienne, suddenly alone, avoids talking to family and even skips the funeral. Instead, she stays, sometimes following Roland’s meticulous itinerary, sometimes merely soaking in the sights and sounds of beachside life, and often accompanied by Paco, an eccentric older man she meets one morning at breakfast.
Life moves at a different speed when you’re on vacation and it definitely has its own uniquely lackadaisical pace in France. Combine that with grief, which also flows in and out like the tides, and you can imagine Fabienne’s emotional journey as she processes these overwhelming feelings at a time and place that’s not really built to accept sadness.
Interestingly, Stay is not a particularly introspective book. There is no internal monologue telling the reader what Fabienne is thinking, nor is she forthcoming to Paco or anyone else she speaks with. It’s in the little moments and gestures where we feel when she’s grieving, or anxious, or numb, or feeling free, or feeling guilty for feeling free. Her emotional journey is mostly left open to interpretation. I’d wager that any reader who has experienced grief will read it their own way, Fabienne holding up a mirror in which to see their own experiences.
Artist Hubert Chevillard captures all of this wonderfully. His figures are realistic but drawn loosely, with the raw energy of animation underdrawings before the dulling effect of thick outlines and cel shading have been applied. The art is then fully painted using a realistic color palette, the backgrounds often soaked in the gentle blue of the summer sky and sea. Chevillard slavishly sticks to a six-panel grid for breezy readability, but the pages are anything but boring, thanks to Chevillard leaning hard on aspect-to-aspect transitions to let the reader soak in the scenery or movement-to-movement transitions to draw out individual moments for cinematic effect.
Given the often-abstract nature of the artwork, I cannot even begin to imagine what writer Lewis Trondheim’s script looked like for this book. The book is often silent, letting Chevillard’s richly drawn body language do most of the heavy lifting, but the dialogue (translated with conversational flair by Mike Kennedy, who also lettered, laid out, and edited the English language edition), when it does come, can hit like an emotional ton of bricks.
Though it’s a book about death, Stay is not a sad or depressing read, but rather a hopeful one. It’s also a stunning example of the storytelling potential of the comic book; Trondheim and Chevillard have such a rich understanding of the craft of comics that this book is a master class in the art of storytelling in words and still pictures. Some may bristle at the fact that nothing much happens in Stay, that no emotional catharsis is reached. But it’s that open-endedness, that willingness to not spell everything out for the reader and to have them fill in the emotional blanks for themselves, that makes it so unique. | Jason Green