by Anthony Rosen
Killing Velazquez is a story about abuse. The kind of abuse that seers a person so deeply, they can’t help but become someone different in the aftermath. The struggle of coming to terms with that new identity lies at the heart of Philippe Girard’s 2009 graphic novel, Killing Velazquez (re-published stateside this year). There's no denying that it's a supremely difficult topic to cover. Impressively, Girard has produced a work, based on his own experiences, that conveys a surprisingly personal suffering while balancing an honest look back at his own life.
The comic is based on the time Girard spent in Sainte-Foy, Canada. Having just moved away from his childhood home and feeling lost and lonely, as all new kids in town must, he escapes into old-fashioned pulp novels and looks to a youth group led by a charismatic priest for comfort. Beyond that, the plot spends time falling through dark dreams and exploring the pulp novels Phillippe reads to escape. Every scene from Girard’s memories flows into the next, reflecting his stream of conscious as a sequential journey. That flow is beautifully illustrated through the artwork and scene transitions, which build up themes and motifs through images and phrases that carry between the memories.
It's worth mentioning how incredibly straightforward the dialogue reads. The central conflict is strongly implied early on, and I’m sure most people recognized what kind of abuse Girard discusses once they got to the middle of my second paragraph up there. In many ways though, that straightforward approach benefits the work, despite the occasional hiccup where the reader can’t help but feel like Girard is straight up just telling us exactly what he wants us to think about the characters or their situation, instead of guiding us to those to find those conclusions more naturally.
Some of that may stem from the translation, as there may be something more subtly conveyed in the original edition. However, because I lack the skills to do such an analysis (not to mention a hard-copy of the original publication), I’ll settle with how I felt the forward nature of the dialogue ended up benefiting the book as a whole.
I hesitate to call the dialogue wooden, because it rings more with truth and sincerity then it does simple answers or quick write-offs. The opening scene itself displays a natural give and take between the characters that rings with a sense of truth. But as the book progresses moments or words begin to feel like unnatural constructions. While the art itself is symbolic, dark, and full of discord, the writing seems content to deal in absolutes. As I looked back at those moments though, I came to view them in a different light. They’re simple statements, but they act to convey the simple way we view the world when we're young, and the way our memories of those events seem so clear cut when the impression they left is so strong. Eventually, the dialogue began to read as Philippe's own self-affirmation and attrition. The subtle underside of Killing Velazquez deals heavily with those notions, dwelling on the innocence of our formative years in the face of traumatic change.
Squat, square and solid, the art in the book relies heavily on thick lines and inks to set its mood. Girard often lets his pen bleed ink onto the page in stylized montages that explore Philippe's dreams. He also finds time to examine Artists of impact in life, evoking their styles and philosophies in several scenes.
One of the most well-executed features of the book is the use of specific words to cue a scene-change. There are points when the transitions starts to feel stale due to overuse, but the sly work of the writing and art produce a few outstanding moments that shake the reader out of boring habit. The transitions help establish the motifs of memory that play or prey upon the work throughout. It’s an ever-present metaphor that dominates the work and reminds us how memory can be indulgent, self-deprecating, or even, at times, nausea inducing.
I do have some problems with the book. Some characters, especially the “villain”, seem incredibly flat and one-dimensional. From the first time he appears, you know exactly how the story wants you to feel about him, and on throughout the rest of the book the audience is given no other sense except to despise the man. Not to say that this character deserves sympathy, but at least some kind of fleshing out.
It’s not a very deeply layered work, however it's done in such a way that this works in its favor. The metaphors, themes, and repeated images are fairly up-front about their implications, and the book feels closer to Girard's memories because of it. Early on, Philippe expresses his wish to look himself in the mirror. Killing Velazquez reads like Philippe Girard's cathartic reckoning with that; his testimonial.
I'm glad to have read it.
TL;DR Killing Velazquez covers emotionally scarring events with honesty, candor, thick inks, nostalgic pulp and stylish nightmares.
A review copy of Killing Velazquez was graciously provided to Spandexless by the publisher.
Anthony Rosen prides himself on two things: his beard and his comic book collection. He once ate a tablespoon of nutmeg on some bad advice from a friend. He hasn’t been the same since.