Comic review: Incredible! by Zabus and Hippolyte
Incredible! - Script by Zabus, Art by Hippolyte
With a title like Incredible! the authors of this graphic novel have a lot to live up to, but you'd have to say that they largely succeed. And that's obviously no small thing. Not only does the artwork often surprise with some inventive imagery and panel layouts that can quite literally take your breath away, but the story itself is one that sets out to show us something truly incredible. Prepare to be amazed.
From an outside perspective, or from anyone observing the behaviour of 11 year old Jean-Loup Beaugens, he would definitely seem to be a strange boy who acts rather oddly. He has strange little routines and rituals that govern his every move, but there's a reason and a method to his actions that most people wouldn't understand. Jean-Loup consequently doesn't fit in well with the other boys, as you can imagine, but he doesn't mind. He lives in his own little world, gathering useful facts and information about the wonders of the world that he records on little cards in a filing system.
More than just interested in mere facts, Jean-Loup also has a vivid imagination. He converses regularly with the King of Belgium, King Baudouin, who he calls Booboo, in the figure of a toy soldier. But he has a less friendly relationship with another imaginary figure, a picture of his grandfather who died in the war in 1916, a hero from the Beaugens side of the family that Jean-Loup fears he can never measure up to. Clearly with better than average intelligence, despite his social awkwardness, Jean-Loup manages to do well in a presentation at school of one of his favourite subjects; death rituals around the world. He excitedly starts a new project, but to research it he needs to speak to the real King Baudouin. Fortunately Jean-Loup has been corresponding with the King for years.
Initially, it seems like Incredible! is merely an insight into the special needs of a autistic child, but it soon becomes apparent that there is much more to the story than that. The intention is more to take an unusual viewpoint to show us that the things we take for granted, all the wonders of the world and the human imagination, are really something… well… incredible. It takes a whole series of almost impossible interconnected historical events and consequences to bring us to where we are today,and yet they happened and we exist.
Incredible! shows us that this is something that we all really need to bear in mind. It's not just an unusual child who is assailed and almost tormented by doubts about his ability to go on and succeed, but it's something that anyone can relate to - although perhaps not quite as vividly as in Jean-Loup's imagination. That however is a necessary leap, and the artwork has to be capable of making a corresponding leap to spark that reaction. Fortunately, Hippolyte's artwork is up to the task, adopting a style that has a lovely loose and sketchy Sempé storybook quality with impressive layouts and moody splash pages.
Zabus's script perhaps over-emphasises the point when it is perfectly obvious what it is that is incredible about Jean-Loup's story and about what is incredible in our own lives, but there's no denying that the story and artwork match the nature of the imaginative strange world that Jean Loup lives in. Perhaps most importantly, in a story that seeks to inspire the imagination it also manages to continually surprise the reader. You might think you know where it's going, just as Jean-Loup has every move planned out in his head, but there are plenty of unusual and unexpected events that are matched by quirks in the lovely artwork.