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‘Always Never’ HC (review)

 

Let me start out by saying that Always Never, the US version of a French graphic novel created, written, and drawn by Jordi Lafebre, with Clémence Sapin colorist, and with English translation by Montana Kane, is without doubt the single most delightful graphic novel that I have read in ages!

A quick digression: In 1968 I went on my first dates, taking my grade school girlfriend to see a couple movies. She moved away in 1970. We were 11 years old.

As an adult, I spent decades managing or working in bookstores and last year I officially retired. This year, 52 years after she moved away, I reconnected with my old, dear friend and recently we got together for a nostalgic walk through the neighborhood in which we grew up.

I don’t know.

Maybe that’s colored my take on Always Never, a story about a man who retired after running a bookstore for decades and goes on a nostalgic walk with an old girlfriend through their old neighborhood.

Maybe?

Always Never both begins and ends with a man and a woman standing in the rain holding umbrellas and looking into each other’s eyes. One of the most interesting things about the entire book is that that ending scene comes first, and then you have to read through the entire book to get to the beginning scene in Chapter One.

Sure it’s a gimmick, but in this case it not only works but is rationalized within the plot itself.

A running thread is that the male lead, Zeno by name and a lifelong bachelor, is going for a doctorate based on his theories of reversing time. Most of the time, though, Zeno owns and occasionally runs a bookstore inherited from his parents…that is, when he isn’t off having adventures on the high seas.

The female lead is Ana, a lifelong romantic but also the mayor of her town for a number of years, and a strong, accomplished woman accustomed to getting things done no matter how long it takes. Ana is happily married to Giuseppe and has a daughter and, eventually, a granddaughter.

But Zeno and Ana met when both were young, and even though life kept happening, preventing them from having a traditional romantic relationship, they could never forget each other, and each keeps turning up in the other’s life.

To say much else here would be to spoil the feels I experienced while reading Always Never, twice! It’s very civilized. There is no violence, no anger, no angst. There’s humor, love, a palpable sense of atmosphere throughout, and a happy ending…which, may I remind you, comes right at the beginning.

Jordi Lafebre deftly and confidently weaves his backwards tale with each chapter self-contained and yet each inexorably tied to both previous and future chapters. Everything we see in that first, final, chapter is all explained in retrospect step by step, subtly and often playfully.

While the book is clearly really only about Ana and Zeno, Lafebre doesn’t skimp on other people at all.

Giuseppe, in particular, the husband, is a well-written, complex, and understanding character. Even background characters, though, are drawn with obvious personality. With the words and pictures dependent on each other for full effect, it becomes immediately obvious that the artist, whatever his age, is clearly a master of the comics form.

The art style itself is distinctly and recognizably European, with all of the tropes I don’t know the names of such as the little puffs and emphatic symbols, as well as creative usage of background noises within the art itself. Having been exposed to Pilote in my formative years, I would peg this as Franco-Belgian artwork in a hot second, even if the artist, I believe, is Spanish.

So, no. While my own experiences undoubtedly enhanced my personal enjoyment of Always Never, it really is THAT good! If you’re a fan of just plain great comics, here’s one. Don’t miss it.

Booksteve strongly recommends.

 

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