Comic review: Gentlemind by Canales, Valero and Lapone
Gentlemind: Episode 1
Story by Juan Díaz Canales and Teresa Valero, artwork by Antonio Lapone
It seems an obvious remark to make but it's the visual aspect of comics and graphic novels that give them a unique individual characteristic and an advantage to be able do things that you can't do with a words alone. Or, to be more precise, it's when it's used well and you have the benefit of a good artist who is not only able to illustrate but use techniques to bring out the distinct character of a story that the visuals can make all the difference. That is done on several levels in Gentlemind, a new European graphic novel scripted by Juan Díaz Canales and Teresa Valero, with artwork by Antonio Lapone.
What Lapone brings to Gentlemind in his attractive artwork is an immediacy that within a couple of panels or pages helps define the period of the 1940s in New York in an approximation or evocation of the classic art style of the New Yorker magazine cartoonists. It's a style that is adaptable to all sides of this world, whether it's the glamour of the Broadway shows, the elegance of expensive apartments and lavish lifestyles or whether it's depicting the rather more basic conditions of a struggling artist. Which is ideal because the inequality of society, between those who have money and those who are struggling with the reality of America in the 1940s, the difference also between how men and women are treated in this society, that is very much a theme at the core of Gentlemind.
The other advantage of comic art is that is can very quickly establish a complex narrative where a diverse range of characters from these different worlds come into contact with one another. Here we are first introduced to struggling artist and cartoonist Arch Parker and his girlfriend Navit. Rejected by every other paper and magazine who are also struggling coming out of the Great Depression, Parker is offered a position by publisher H W Powell, a millionaire with other business interests who doesn't need to worry that he is losing money in his titillating girlie magazine. Primarily however his interest is in women and one particular woman stands out from Arch's illustrations; the stunning Navit.
Arch and Navit's relationship is inevitably tested by this, as Navit is keen to also make her own way in the world, but needs must and compromises are made that they have to find a way to live with. The consequences however are far reaching, not only on a personal level but they reflect the gradual changes happening in society post-Depression and heading into the war years. That idea is drawn out in other characters who are weaved into the plot, creating complex relationships and connections that bring Waldo Trigo into the story. A lawyer of Puerto Rico origin, Trigo eventually finds that he has a conscience and can no longer defend the indefensible injustice and inequality of a system that privileges the rich and victimises the poor.
The connecting thread that joins up and brings together the various strands is the magazine Gentlemind, which Navit soon takes ownership of and decides to reinvent with Trigo as an adisor, taking it away from its girlie mag origins. In a series that starts out in 1940 and intends to cover three decades, Gentlemind (the graphic novel) ambitiously sets out to show the changes that occur in society over the same period, but it's in no hurry to get there in this first episode. There are various little vignettes and secondary figures drafted in around the three main players, Navit, Arch and Waldo and the story thus far develops organically out from their personal experiences, taking in social poverty, the war, the justice system and the world of business without you realising how all-encompassing the story is.
So while it doesn't seem like a whole lot of anything important happens as Navit starts to get her magazine off the ground with a mystery writer on board, the story holds you by grounding it in a fascinating pre- and post-war period of gradual but significant change. Lapone's artwork has and period character with a slightly more modern edge, much like the style of Seth (Clyde Fans). If the story is still in the process of coming together, weaving strands together and developing themes to be explored in further episodes, it's the charm and fluidity of the attractive artwork that plays a large part in keeping the reader engaged. The always creative and adaptable panel designs with gentle washes of colouration, the sheer beauty of the stylised character designs and the classic 1940s New York and Coney Island locations, literally draw everything together.