Lucille is an above-average version of the classic “troubled teens on the run” story. It’s certainly well done, and even features some breathtaking sequences, but the tale ultimately doesn’t manage to transcend its genre trappings. This wouldn’t be that much of a problem if it wasn’t painfully clear that was exactly what author Ludovic Debeurme was hoping to do.
The plot concerns the titular young girl, an anorexic, alienated teen, who falls for the OCD-plagued Vladimir a.k.a. Arthur, son of a rather nasty alcoholic fisherman. Together the teens flee their families and the quiet French town they call home with the hope of finding happiness, love and perhaps fortune in Italy. And if you give anything for the chances of attaining their goals you’re a far, far more optimistic person than myself. Chances are you’ve also never read or seen Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Badlands, Benny and Joon, Splendor in the Grass, or Sid and Nancy.
Debeurme writes with authority and insight about the teens’ inner anxieties and demons. He does particularly well with Lucille, paying attention to how her warped self-image puts her at odds with her obviously loving and well-meaning mother and how difficult it is for her to even sit down for breakfast. At the risk of making wild assumptions, Debeurme is either writing from personal experience, or he must have spent a good deal of research on the disease and its effects to create such a fully rounded character.
The author also spends a great deal of time delving Vladimir’s history, particularly his abusive relationship with his father. Strangely though, not too much is made of his OCD beyond a few strange habits that could easily be passed off as eccentricities. It seems like a missed opportunity.
Debeurme adopts a minimalist, razor-thin style that eschews panel borders in the same manner of Chester Brown’s “Showing Helder”. Backgrounds, when offered, are Spartan in appearance—a few trees scattered around to suggest a forest for example. The characters rarely seem to be standing on any solid sort of ground, and even the images themselves appear to float on the page, perhaps intending to give the book a haunting, almost dizzying feel. It’s a method that has both pluses and minuses: The casualness of the presentation hurts the book a little during some
of the more tense, frenzied action sequences, but it also helps convey the main characters’ alienation and self-doubt as they clumsily attempt to connect to each other and the world around them.
But then about two-thirds of the way through the story it takes a wrong turn, as the couple take refuge at the home of a Italian winemaker and the owner’s son takes a predatory interest in Lucille. What was previously a sharp (if occasionally simplistic) character study becomes a flat-out melodrama and upends some of the gravitas that the book had been exhibiting previously. To an extent, this sequence underscores the couple’s naiveté and lowly socio-economic status, but it does so in a rather clumsy way.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are some stunning sequences to be found in these pages, like the one in which young Vladimir counts his dad’s empty beer glasses in the hopes they might leave the bar soon, a bathing sequence in a river, the couple’s initial sexual fumblings – all these and more make Lucille a book worth reading and suggest that Debeurme is a cartoonist worthy of your attention.
But the problem with Lucille is that despite the sensitivity and care he takes with his two leads, the story itself is an overly familiar one, i.e., the young, misunderstood lovers on the run only to find that they can’t escape their own demons. Even the winemaker and his son seem to come from a well-established nouveau riche cliché. Lucille has moments of real beauty and truth, but for all of its assurances, it offers little surprises or revelations.
Is it churlish and unfair to chide a book for being merely very good instead of great? Probably, though I think Debeurme’s ambition invites such comparisons. Certainly it’s those very ambitions that will have me, despite my qualms, seeking out Debeurme’s next book, a sequel to Lucille, when and if it arrives on these shores.