REVIEWS

The Strange

Opening up The Strange, I wished there was more context given to the reader, but perhaps that is part of the point: you are thrust into a world that may be confusing and difficult to navigate, just as the protagonist is. Jérôme Ruillier draws the protagonist as a bulky dog with a vacant stare, maybe made that way from trauma, living in a a beautiful but oppressive world rendered in red and gray. The story begins with the dog speaking in first-person, explaining that he and his family have "decided to leave," without saying where they were leaving from. Ruillier juts you into the narrative sharply, with the dog, using money borrowed from friends and family, procuring papers from a "fixer."

The story then transitions to one of multiple perspectives: a crow watches him; a bus driver notices him and his coat, that "he wasn't from here." It is not made clear where "here" is, and the detail seems not too important. A "strange" becomes another name for an undocumented immigrant. The story seems to take place in Europe but of course it parallels the situation with ICE in the US right now. One protestor of the detention of a strange tells a cop, "Why do we have to break up the family?" Things turn more difficult for the unnamed "strange.”

The graphite markmaking feels tentative and anxious; filled-in patches of black graphite seem laborious, and the cross-hatching wobbles. These visual touches all convey a sense of dread. Without much negative or white space, there’s often little area for the eye to “rest” in reading the book. The design is oppressive, as is the world that “the strange” lives in. We meet many characters throughout the journey, most of them unsavory, but as someone born in the US with white skin, it’s hard not to see myself in them, given our positions of privilege.

The language used to denote a foreign tongue is not noted as any specific real language, and “the strange” we follow may represent people of many different diasporas. Lost without community, without a name, “the strange” wanders throughout his new chosen city, mostly working, and dealing with the ever-present danger of being found out and subsequent deportation.

In a note from the author at the end of the book, Ruillier explains that he "wove together pieces" of many stories of undocumented immigrants to create the fictionalized graphic novel. The effect is one made piecemeal, underscored by the shifting two-color palette from chapter to chapter. It begins with red, and shifts colors either shocking (orange) or depressing (forest green). The result is a tapestry of tales that help illuminate the crushing difficulties facing undocumented immigrants, and the ways that privileged people justify intense cruelty towards them.

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