Originally Published in French as Collaboration Horizontale Writer: Navie
Artist: Carole Maurel English Translation by Margaret Morrison 144 pp, Published in English by Korero Press in August 2019
Not long ago, my wife Kathe read a prose book about the women in France who “collaborated” with the Nazis who occupied their homeland during WWII. The term “horizontal collaboration” is a snarky way of describing the actions of French women who had relations with Nazis, either willingly or unwillingly. Although I never read that one, Kathe told me just enough about it to pique my curiosity. With that background, I anticipated a good read about a difficult subject when I picked up the latest graphic novel from Korero Press: Horizontal Collaboration by Navie and Carole Maurel.
Originally published in French, writer Navie stuffs quite a few characters into a small part of town… and into this story. While some may find it confusing or cramped, once I focused on keeping everyone straight, I thought it worked really well. Navie plays with so many traditional character conventions that upon reflection, every character seems to have just the right amount of stage time and is important to the larger tapestry of the story.
Even the convention of wartime lovers was something different. Horizontal Collaboration is peculiar, as a “love story”, as the two lovers aren’t necessarily the main characters. One of the lovers is a Nazi, so I did find it hard to be sympathetic to him or his plight. You might argue that making him sympathetic, or even just non-loathe-able, is a big task for any writer. Navie almost pulls that off.
Other characters delight and surprise. The crazy cat lady may not be crazy. The blonde bombshell takes an unexpected path. The conflicted artist struggles in realistic, yet unexpected ways. This graphic novel is all the better for these fresh perspectives.
The art is simple and straightforward. To longtime readers like me, it has that storyboard feel – with cartoon-y people. Carol Maurel still imbues them with character and depth. Generally, this loose style is not my cup of tea. I was thinking that in a perfect world, I would have had a more traditional comic artist illustrate this story, someone with a familiar style along the lines of a Joe Kubert or a Russ Heath. On the other hand, I worry I’m stuck in the past (from reading too many Joe Kubert and Russ Heath war stories) or spoiled by the recent stunning GN, Flight of the Raven by Jean-Pierre Gibrat.
We all know how important it is to expand our horizons. I felt like that’s what I was doing by engaging with Carol Maurel’s art.
Throughout the book, she’s got some clever tricks up her artistic sleeves. I’m not sure if they all work, but it’s fun to ride along with her as she breaks conventions and strives for innovation. Oh, she also has a masterful color palette. It kind of sneaks up on you, but like a tasty meal, you can really appreciate it well after it’s over.
The format (of the physical book) must be discussed. The book is a bit more square-shaped than most American comics; 7.3 x by 9.4 inches. There’s a weight and a heftiness to it that gives the narrative all the more gravitas. To a U.S. reader, it seems Horizontal Collaboration could have been published in five or six issues of a traditional comic, but it wasn’t. There’s also a nice treat towards the end of the book: a “fold out” that ties directly into the story. That’s a clumsy way to describe it, but to do more would give away a nice surprise.
Who’s to say who loves who? What secrets do we all hide from world? How wrong are we so frequently about what we think we know about our friends? How much compassion can we muster for our neighbors? These are all good questions that bubble up in this provocative graphic novel. Navie and Maurel may not have answered them all, but they make you think about them all the more.