Written by Jean Regnaud
Art by Émile Bravo
128 pages, color
Published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon
One thing I’ve always been impressed by is when a book can really depict what it’s like to be a child. So often, authors write children as nothing more than very short adults, using the same mental patterns and words that the author would use as well. So while that’s not the only thing that immediately struck me with Jean Regnaud and Émile Bravo’s My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill, the fact that Regnaud (and translators Vanessa Champion and Elizabeth Tierman) nailed it so perfect is alone reason to celebrate.
Jean is starting first grade, and he doesn’t know anyone. Even worse, the first thing she did was ask everyone what their parents did—and how do you explain that your mother is traveling very far away and you’re not entirely sure where? And if a new school and classmates isn’t enough, there’s his younger brother Paul that drives Jean crazy, the girl next door who he’s forbidden to play with, and a slightly cold father. It’s not easy being a little kid in a big world, after all.
As I mentioned before, Regnaud completely nails the child mind set in My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill. Leaps of logic that would escape an adult are absolutely present here, and in the reverse there are things that would never even occur to Jean that would no doubt immediately jump to mind as an adult in terms of how to turn a situation to Jean’s advantage. Jean’s innocence is sweet but not cloying or unrealistic, here; you can see him start to learn about not only his family (and why his mother is traveling all over the world), but also how to deal with things like school, authority figures, and strangers. In other hands I can’t help but think that this story would be annoying; there are certainly similar books out there where I’ve just wanted to shake the kids and yell, "Just how dumb are you?" (I’m sure everyone is relieved that I currently have no children of my own.) With Regnaud, though, there’s just the right mixture of what Jean understands and what the reader understands that it never comes across as unrealistic, or frustrating, or trite. Instead we are very much a part of Jean’s world, from how he gets around the restrictions of playing with Michele, to having to visit family friends that scare him.
Bravo’s art is beautiful, a graceful usage of minimal lines and coloring to make his pages often feel like portraits of the characters at specific moments throughout their lives. While many pages of the book do use a traditional comic book grid method of storytelling, Bravo is just as easily able to move off of the strict and formalized, often dabbing little pictures across a borderless page. When Bravo does that, your eye still moves across the page easily, everything laid out in such a way that there’s never any confusion. Bravo uses his colors to great effect here as well; each chapter has a single color that’s used for all of the backgrounds, and he matches the rest of the art to integrate with it quite well. It’s a simple but strong technique, making each chapter feel unified, but never gimmicky. It’s a beautiful final look for the book, and it makes me want to see more of Bravo’s work.
My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill is a really charming book, through and through. It’s not until I got to the afterward that I suddenly realized that My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill is actually a non-fiction story of Regnaud’s own childhood, and that moment made everything fall into place that much more. It’s impressive how well Regnaud captured his own childhood, and how gracefully it’s presented on the page. I love getting the chance to read a book by two creators whom I’ve never heard of before, but who absolutely grab me in a matter of seconds. I’d definitely read more comics by either of these creators; this is a really excellent book.
Purchase Links: Amazon.com