I approach comics written by Kathryn Immonen with curious trepidation, because I know no matter what subject she covers, I’m going to be challenged. She doesn’t talk down to her readers, and her structures and characters are refreshingly complex. I’m left thinking about what I read long afterwards.
That’s even more true with Moving Pictures, since the subject matter is particularly unusual and affecting. Ila is a low-level museum worker in Paris; Rolf is a German bureaucrat. It’s World War II, and the Germans have occupied France, where they are seizing works of art, among other things. The two face off over this and other disputes.
The art style is stark, unshaded lines against plenty of black. (It’s more similar to 50 Reasons to Stop Sketching at Conventions, although darker, than Stuart’s more highly polished superhero work.) Immonen is a master of chiaroscuro, and the high contrast suits a wartime story, where everything from our perspective seemed so simple, right vs. wrong. This tale shows otherwise, that any time people and emotions are involved, things become complicated.
Although historical, the characters are immediately recognizable: A young women working under her potential unsure what she wants, knowing only that she doesn’t want to settle for the expected “wife and kids” role. A man part of an evil bureaucracy with an unexpected connection to her. The opening scenes will be familiar to any fan of old movies: an interrogation in a dark room, lit with an exposed overhead bulb, followed by a rushed train-side goodbye. Ila demonstrates surprising bravery in her choice, although it also speaks to her stubbornness and protected nature in not considering what might happen to her as a result of her decisions.
The story is told obliquely, as we get to know key moments through what the characters say and don’t say. It’s a very mature storytelling style that requires the reader’s attention and involvement. As soon as you read through it, you’ll want to return to the beginning to gain new insight into some of the early conversations now that you know more about the people involved.
The handsomely understated package and framing is a worthy addition to the fine art tradition of the premise. I found myself pondering the nature of the canon, of how we decide which works of art are major and which minor. After reading this, I better appreciate them all. And I found myself wondering, how do you compare the value of a person to a painting, given the vagaries of history? When we look back, how does our perspective change given what we now know? Art outlasts us all. (The publisher provided a review copy.)