Writer, Illustrator, Philosopher
Limited Edition is a graphic novel by French artist and writer Aude Picault. Although Picault’s work is well-known in France, she has yet to achieve the recognition in English-speaking countries that she deserves (something that this translation of one of her most recent works will hopefully begin to redress).
Picault’s graphic style is simple, closest to that commonly seen in newspaper comic strips. Limited Edition also employs a very restricted colour palette – primarily yellow, of various shades, with the occasional judicious use of blue or pink. This stripped-back approach leaves nowhere for an artist to hide, but Picault is such a master of her craft that the minimalism simply serves to showcase her wonderful skills for characterisation, humour and composition. There are no generic faces in Limited Edition; even characters whose appearance is restricted to a single page or panel are distinct individuals, whilst those with recurring appearances are clearly differentiated and consistently depicted. Expression and posture are beautifully observed and often humorously conveyed. Visually, the work is a deceptively simple joy.
In terms of story, Limited Edition covers a few years in the life of Claire, a neonatal nurse in her thirties living in France, disappointed in love and feeling increasing social pressure to find the right man and settle down. As such, it is not a tale of high drama – there are no murders, family scandals or political intrigues – but a keenly observed account of typical, everyday concerns: relationships, friendships, family, work. These are all presented in realistic frankness (sex is frequently discussed and nudity frequently depicted, but honestly and in context, often humorously, not salaciously or gratuitously). However, these common life experiences are not taken at face value, but scrutinised through a distinctly feminist lens. Unless there should be any doubt as to this, the book also contains a ‘short bibliography’ where readers are directed on to the works of Virginia Woolf, Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir and a host of other feminist authors. In fact, the book is quite systematic in its coverage of feminist topics: the beauty myth, the stereotypes of mother and wife, the traditional expectations of monogamy, differing attitudes to raising male and female children, among others. As interesting and important as these issues are, this didacticism might be annoying in a less talented author, but Picault skilfully and subtly weaves these concerns through Claire’s story in a way that adds and not detracts from it. The characters and situations are not simply a vehicle for the issues, but are fully realised events that the issues raised cast in a new light.
Regarding the edition itself (originally published by Dargaud), I found no issues with the translation, which has been skilfully rendered into colloquial English. I do, however, wonder about the title: Limited Edition translates Idéal Standard, which – although I’m not a French speaker – would seem to lose something (that Claire is faced with a socially imposed ‘ideal standard’ that she must live up to). But perhaps the publishers have their reasons. Picault’s original hand-written text is neatly replaced with a similar handwriting font, and in all other respects the book is beautifully put together (that said, I can only comment on the digital (PDF) copy that I was given for review). The translated edition only seems to be available as a digital edition through Comixology/Amazon.
In summary, Limited Edition is a beautiful, visually delightful, funny – yet serious – take on the sort of pressures faced by the average contemporary Western woman. As such, while its subject matter might traditionally attract more female readers than male, I would hope that it can be enjoyed and appreciated by both sexes, and help Picault to gain the wider English-speaking readership she so richly deserves.[Disclaimer: This review was based on a complimentary PDF edition supplied by the publisher via Net Galley]
Gareth Southwell is a philosopher, writer and illustrator from the UK. He is the author of the near-future sci-fi novel MUNKi, which concerns robots, the hunt for the Technological Singularity, and people swearing in Welsh.
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