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‘The Butchery’ (review)

Written and Illustrated by Bastien Vivès
Published by Fantagraphics Books


I have a wide range of tastes in music, art, comics, literature, and really everything else.

I have also learned how to judge things on their own terms. Garage band music can sound as good as Top 40 radio; A low-budget movie with dicey performances and an iffy script can still be a good movie; Paintings don’t have to actually look like what they’re supposed to represent to be art; A cheap mass market thriller can be as good or better than a bestseller; Charlton comics can be enjoyable!

All that said, I have never been able to grasp the great joy that Fantagraphics has long found in publishing material that goes right over my head, and often over the heads of most other average readers likely to be looking at a Fantagraphics publication in the first place.

Such is the case with The Butchery, another translated from the French graphic “novel,” this one   by Bastien Vivès.

The back cover describes it thusly: In The Butchery, internationally acclaimed cartoonist Bastien Vivès tells the story of a relationship in visual metaphors and small, poetic moments: lively dancing, silent strolls hand in hand, stilted phone calls, tearful pillow talk. By turns tender, agonizing, and darkly humorous, this graphic novel is painfully relatable to anyone who has loved and lost.

Only I’m not sure by whose definition this is a graphic novel.

The only way one can find a story here is reading between the lines. At best it’s a collection of visualizations of moments in a relationship of two nameless people, with a few seemingly completely unrelated pieces thrown in.

The art, seemingly drawn in loose computer lines and colored with an interesting crayon effect throughout, shows a couple dancing, making love, brushing their teeth, breaking up, and finally (presumably the metaphor mentioned on the back cover) killing each other.

Is that what the title means?

The only definitions I find for “butchery” indicate it’s another name for a slaughterhouse. Are we supposed to come away with the idea that relationships equal death? Oooo. That’s deep.

But is it?

Or is The Butchery really just a series of sometimes clever cartoon imagery on a connecting theme, with stylish and occasionally poignant illustrations?

To me, I’m afraid that’s it.

I like a lot of Fantagraphics publications. I’ve actually been published by Fantagraphics myself several times. The Butchery, however, has to go on my growing list of pretentiously “artsy” publications.



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