Saturday, November 24, 2012

6th Canadian challenge - 9th review

I think this is the first time I have reviewed a graphic novel for any of the challenges.  The Blue Dragon is a graphic novel adaptation of a play by Robert LePage and Marie Michaud.  The illustrations are by Fred Jourdain.  It is published by House of Anansi Press.  I was actually looking to see if the library had LePage's The Far Side of the Moon.  I was fortunate enough to see this play in Vancouver a week ago, with LePage himself doing the acting!  It turns out that they don't have the script,* but apparently a DVD of the filmed play (which I'll try to put on reserve).  The local library did have this graphic novel, however, and it was the English version, not the French version. 

You can see some similarities in The Blue Dragon to The Far Side of the Moon.  A heavy reliance on symbolic images (I can kind of picture how LePage would have all the Chinese writing projected above the actors).  While it isn't a perfect comparison, I was struck by how much LePage's visuals reminded me of Bill Viola's video installations, though Viola isn't trying to carry a whole play on the back of his images.  And this play offers up some meditations on the difficulties of communication across cultural barriers.  I guess in the play, the actors often speak Mandarin to each other and presumably the translation was super-projected above them.  David Henry Hwang's Chinglish did this to good effect recently. While these are interesting elements, they perhaps come at the expense of the plot.  The plot is even thinner in The Blue Dragon than in The Far Side of the Moon. 


A woman comes to China to try to adopt a baby.  She stays with a former lover, who operates an art gallery in Shanghai.  He is particularly worried that he is losing his apartment to redevelopment (a common enough occurrence in China's eastern cities).  He has an on-again/off-again relationship with a young Chinese artist (he met her in Hong Kong when she tattooed the Blue Dragon onto his back).  The French woman returns to Montreal (unsuccessful in her bid to adopt).  A year later she returns.  She finds that the gallery owner has lost his apartment and his gallery, but has started doing his own art again.  He seems fed up with China, but unsure he wants to return to Quebec.  She also then tracks down the younger Chinese artist, who had been pregnant with the man's child -- and kept the child rather than aborting it, which was the "sensible" thing to do in her position.  There are three endings -- and this is set up earlier in the book/play when the artist discusses the legend/ancient practice of unmarried women dropping their babies (basketed) into the Three Gorges River and letting the river decide their fate in one of three ways.  In one ending, the older woman gets the baby and probably her former lover.  In the next, the older woman takes the baby but the younger woman seems to be reconciled with the man.  And in the third, for some reason the man seems to be adopting the baby (this one frankly makes no sense to me).  I suspect this may have worked somewhat better on stage or on film, and not as well in book format.

The artwork is well-done, not terribly flashy.  The male artist certainly reminds me a fair bit of LePage (and quite possibly he did play the part on stage).  There are several full page illustrations (with no text at all) that are heavily influenced by Chinese art and calligraphy.  Nonetheless, it is a fairly restrained, static piece compared to most graphic novels.  The plot, such as it is, doesn't move me at all.  It's an interesting experiment and worth checking out if one is a fan of LePage's work in general, but wasn't a keeper for me.  Definitely glad I could borrow it from the library.

* As far as I can determine, the play is only available in French (La Face cachée de la lune) despite LePage obviously having been involved in the English translation.  That seems a shame, as it really limits its readership.  I am not entirely sure I would get enough from only being able to read it in French.  Some reviewers have even commented that the English subtitles on the DVD are problematic.

The Blue Dragon

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