The Parakeet

The Parakeet

Espé, translated by Hannah Chute

Graphic Mundi


156 pages

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As happens with illnesses resting in deceptive stillness, a relapse can occur furiously in the most unobserved moments. In this way, I once again return to 2019's eerie sociological study disguised as a video nasty, The Replacer, a comic I tend to revisit like a flare-up due to recurring sickness patterns. I've already relapsed before when reviewing Marion Fayolle's The Tenderness of Stones, as well as when examining Regina Hofer's Fat for TCJ, so, to sum it up briefly, The Replacer tells the story of a disease's progression as seen through the eyes of a youth - just like in the book I will discuss today, The Parakeet by Espé. In both comics it's the male offspring who is trying to cope with the symptoms of a parent's disease they cannot fully comprehend nor address appropriately.

And whereas in The Replacer an imagined demon gets blamed for a father's shortcomings—not only, but mostly, in looking after his son and daughter—the son of a mother suffering from “bipolar disorder episodes with schizophrenic tendencies” (backcover text) in The Parakeet has come up with a more spandex-related explanation - thus, simply by the nature of the beast, masking it as an apology that's deeply rooted in the North American lore of boyish treehouse culture, Fortress of Solitude style. I have no clue why this is, because, as a Frenchman, Espé should be cape-resilient from his upbringing alone - unless someone missed out on painstakingly feeding him large spoons of ligne claire (as invented mainly by Tintin) and the so-called École de Marcinelle (see several incarnations of Spirou & Fantasio), those famous Franco-Belgian comic art styles which are prevalent in France's bandes dessinées, literally translating as “drawn strips” in French.

So, from a point of view sympathizing with the concept of cultural identity as an influence, a much more adequate visualization of the mother's powerful and virulent outbursts—instead of the X-Men's Dark Phoenix (one of The Parakeet's chapters is entitled "Jean Grey")—probably would've been, *ho hum*, the Gaul Obelix. That would place Espé's book shoulder to shoulder with fellow French writers Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier, who once came up with an unauthorized crossover between Superman and a slightly-modified Asterix - also an alumnus of Uderzo & Co., and probably the most renowned representative of the aforementioned Marcinelle School. Assisted by (obvious choice here) Keith Giffen during his José Muñoz swiping phase, this non-canonical onslaught happened in Action Comics #579 in 1986.

Nonetheless—and to connect my ideas—Espé has evidently graduated from the school of Marcinelle, which accessorizes the rather serious topic of The Parakeet with a kind of light and relieving note sorely needed in a plot which culminates with a mother hanging herself from the ceiling. But while Espé is good at finding repair patches for his story's all-too-heavy impact by plastering the path with cuteness, this strategy leads to the reader getting hit even harder; coming along in a benign disguise, the book stealthily injects its basic message of some illnesses' chronically progressive nature into your veins.

In panels where the boy is witnessing one of his mother's many seizures, whilst looking from a windowsill above the ground, the monochrome color first changes from a calm and down-toned green to gray, afterwards bursting out into a loud orange foreboded in the lettering. All the while, his mother's body undergoes a transmutation from an animal captured in a leg hold trap to an imagined-as-dancing body twitching in convulsions, embraced by two wardens tangoing in the night in an attempt to carry their patient to an ambulance.

Espé delivers many well thought-out metaphors for the different states of mental disorder haunting his protagonist. The most brilliant is a sequence of panels articulating the mother's bipolar episode by depicting her drowning during a house-cleaning, switching between gray for everyday plight and an orange flood of disorder, washing the gray-shimmering household items away.

In the end, it's all like an emergency switch implanted in the back of your head - one which burns every circuit in the process. Until that day, the ability to protect you from life's provocations, innocently looking like a funny book at first sight, is destined to signal a final and irreparable dysfunction.