The Blue Dragon
by Robert Lepage and Marie Michaud
Illustrations by Fred Jourdain
House of Anansi Press
It will come as no surprise that world-renowned multimedia artist
Robert Lepage has branched out into the realm of the graphic novel. But
of course, not wanting to be hemmed in by a strict number of frames and
pages, Lepage gave Quebec illustrator Fred Jourdain the opportunity not
to simply make a graphic novel, but to create a graphic representation
of Lepage and Marie Michaud’s The Blue Dragon.
Jourdain’s graphic version is intended to be a snapshot in time of
the stage play, which even includes last minute dialogue updates to
reflect the most recent performance (at the time in London). Jourdain’s
only ground rule for this two-year project was that it had to reflect
the stage production 100%. The result is a stunning 176-page work,
combining pen and ink drawings, Chinese calligraphy, digital colour and a
few innovative twists to the traditional graphic novel layout.
In The Blue Dragon, the reader meets art dealer Pierre Lamontagne, the central character in the Dragon’s Trilogy,
twenty years later in Shanghai. At the airport in the opening scene,
Lamontagne greets Claire Laforêt, a former lover from art school. A
46-year-old ad agency owner, Claire has come to China for a specific
purpose, which she hopes will bring greater meaning to her life. A
romance is briefly rekindled between the two, but unresolved conflicts
surface, leading to confrontation over their respective life choices.
Claire’s re-emergence also impacts Lamontagne’s current relationship
with the much younger Xiao Ling, a young Chinese artist exhibiting her
work at Pierre’s gallery. Xiao Ling has to face an important life
choice, which fills Claire with hope. The intersection of the three
characters leads to irrevocable change in their lives. All of this takes
place in the rapidly changing landscape of modern China.
Best-known for his illustrations of jazz, rock and film stars, Fred Jourdain had never completed a full-length bande dessinée
before. Lepage and his theatre company, Ex-Machina, selected the
26-year-old mainly for his highly cinematographic style, his sense of
mood, treatment of ambiance and his focus on the feelings and
expressions of his characters.
A major challenge for Jourdain was dealing with large chunks of
dialogue. In many instances, the artist opted for detailed double-page
scenes with the dialogue entered unobtrusively in the margins, a great
solution for what would have otherwise been heavy speech balloons.
Jourdain also did a fabulous job of creating ambiance through colour and
establishing pace and mood with double-page metaphorical illustrations
without any dialogue. Perhaps the most appealing aspect in this
adaptation was page layout. Unlike some graphic novelists who use the
same number of panels throughout their work, Jourdain’s layout changed
with every page, offering the reader an element of surprise and making The Blue Dragon more art than graphic novel.
And like all good art, it is possible to go through Jourdain’s
interpretation many times, finding something new with each reading.
Although some of the illustrations of the characters are a little too
static at times, overall it’s a superb piece of art by an emerging
artist whom we’re bound to hear more of in the future.
The more-art-than-comic approach to The Blue Dragon may be
the stroke of genius to win over the reluctant adult who still sees the
graphic novel as strictly for kids. What’s more, because Lepage has
reportedly no immediate plans to make any other graphic representations
of his work, my guess is that this little gem may soon become a
This review has been cross-posted at Rover Arts.
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