To quote Prince John in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, “A mime is a terrible thing to waste.” That’s why I store mine in the freezer, and take it out when I’m tired of the same old meals. Does it taste kind of funny? Of course, but it beats Top Ramen.
The graphic novel Pietrolino stars a down on his luck mime with magical hands and powerful stage presence during the aftermath of World War II. Set in France, we’re first introduced to Pietrolino and his small band of traveling circus performers as they move throughout Nazi-occupied France seeking to perform in restaurants and cafes to make a little money. After one show is interrupted by a small group of Nazi soldiers who aren’t fond of his act, Pietrolino’s hands are broken, as is his spirit to perform and continue bringing joy to the masses.
After slaving away with broken hands in a prison camp, the war has ended and he and his best friend Simio must find a way to entertain people again with whatever skills they still possess. Hiding Pietrolino’s useless hands underneath a pair of boxing gloves, their act changes for the best and pretty soon Pietrolino is well-known throughout France as the famous boxing clown. From then on out we follow Pietrolino as he dabbles in love, rises through the entertainment ranks, and seeks his revenge on the one who helped break his hands in the first place.
Written by Alexandro Jodorowsky (The Incal) and illustrated by O.G. Boiscommun (The Book of Jack), Pietrolino is a touching tale of a mime who never gave up, no matter how badly his situation looked. He performs for the audience, his friends, and the girl he eventually falls in love with just to bring joy to the world, broken hands be damned. It’s rather quite inspiring to see his transformation throughout the book, for with an injury so grave, most would have simply retired. Jodorowsky originally wrote it as a stage play for the famous French mime Marcel Marceau, but with Boiscommun’s illustrations I’m glad they decided to go the graphic novel route instead.
Boiscommun’s style and feel is definitely European, reminding me slightly of Guarnido’s Blacksad at certain points. The painterly colors helped make the characters leap-off the pages, for the amount of detail put into every panel was simply astounding. His backgrounds are just as dazzling as the characters that are front and center, and the facial expressions were extremely well done throughout.
While I haven’t read the comic in the original language it was translated from, I thought Humanoids did a superb job adapting it for Western audiences. When I finally got to the last page, I found myself chanting for an encore. While I’ve said before how the market consisting of World War II comics is terribly dull, it’s comics like Pietrolino that still find a way into my heart, reminding me of the power of this wonderful medium.