by Philip Skurski
How do you tell a child that they will never know their mother? I don’t know. Frankly, I’m not in a position where I have to do that, not right now anyways (hopefully never, but who’s to say?). This question, though never explicitly presented to us, is an integral part of My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill by Jean Regnaud with illustrations by Emile Bravo.
Coincidentally, just the other day I was reading a two-part article about a quasi-literary movement called the New Sincerity, and while reading My Mommy I couldn’t help but be reminded of it. New Sincerity is a response to the overbearing level of ironic detachment from sentimentality that comes from postmodernism—among other things, as with any movement it gets rather complicated when you talk about it, if you’re at all interested you can read what I read here. It’s a call back to the earnestness and the pure wonder of childhood, My Mommy is a memoir of Regnaud’s experience as a child growing up without a mother and escaping to a world of fantasy to explain it away. Everything is presented in this simplistic child-like manner, where the world of adults doesn’t always quite make sense, and the inability to understand the befuddling complexities we have put into everyday life create near surreal circumstances.
It’s a style of writing that’s difficult to capture without ever crossing over into maudlin or cartoonish areas. Luckily, Regnaud has a deft hand when it comes to balancing the childishness of the narrative. There are no backwards “r”s to be seen—literal or figurative. It does seem sincere, like it came straight from the child, which I guess it did, just a grown up version of him. Regnaud’s style carries all of the simple emotional ups and downs of childhood rather well, and splashes in great bits of humor too—be they the result of a childish misunderstanding, or just because, as Mr. Cosby can attest, kids say the darnedest things.
But the best bits of humor certainly come out of Bravo’s artwork. It carries a kind of Sunday Morning Funny Papers feel, which only seems appropriate for the age of our humble narrator. There are thought bubbles explained only through images and bits of dramatic irony thrown throughout that, while not hidden in such a way so as to keep you on your toes exactly, are there to reward the engaged reader. Look at me, I sound like a high school English teacher, oh well.
Bravo’s style is different from the funny papers though, because he does have a good understanding of subtly and nuance, which can most definitely be seen—most frequently in the faces of the adults of the story. Tempering their natures, be they serious, kind, or what have you, with the ever present yet hidden knowledge that these boys are going to go through something tragic long after it has happened.
It isn’t exactly hidden from the reader, what’s happened to Jean’s mother, we can read the context clues that fill the boys’ world, but being a child Jean is in the dark. The ultimate reveal to him of his mother’s fate occurs in a manner that only childish pettiness and impish cruelty can create, but is juxtaposed with the dissolution of another childhood dream—Father Christmas—in a way that handles the entire situation without crossing over into after-school-special territory.
I suppose I have a bit of a soft spot for personal narratives told through comics these days, but nevertheless I really enjoyed reading it.
TL;DR My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill is a bit sad, but in that warm and fuzzy way that makes you smile a bit regardless.
My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill is written by Jean Regnaud with art by Émile Bravo. Translated from the French by Vanessa Champion, the book is co-published by UK/Spanish “translation house” Fanfare/Ponent Mon. You can purchase it by asking your local comic book shop to order the book for you (through Midpoint) or, support Spandexless by purchasing through our Amazon web store.
A review copy of My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill was graciously provided to Spandexless by the publisher.
In the interest of full disclosure it should be noted that Managing Editor Beth Scorzato is an occasional employee of Fanfare selling books at trade shows. But she hopes that doesn’t change your opinion of this review because Philip is far from the only person who has ever liked the book.
Philip Skurski is regularly suspected to be a vampire, but prefers to be called Phil. He writes and reads and occasionally drinks Earl Grey. Phil loves marginalized media, the stories “serious minded” people turn their nose up at because—well he doesn’t know the becauses and the wherefores. He thinks and writes about all these things regularly, and is glad to have a place like Spandexless to put that time to good use. Idle hands are the Devil’s playground, as they say.