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The Building Opposite

Written and illustrated by Vanyda
Fanfare/Ponent Mon
166 pages, $21.99
ISBN: 8493399280


Sequence from The Building Opposite; ©2003 Vanyda, English translation ©2006 Fanfare/Ponent Mon.


First and foremost: I'll be damned if I can tell what this has to do with manga. Even attempting to look at the book through French blinders, the closest I can come is "It has more than 48 pages, so it can't be a French album." Alas, hasn't L'Association and the wave of graphic novels they've inspired made a hash of that cliché long ago? So near as I can tell, this is a "nouvelle manga" book mainly because the continuing existence of such books helps to keep Asiaphilic editor Frédéric Boilet balls-deep in Japanese chicks.

The art doesn't suggest any particular Japanese style: It's mildly closer to the open linework found in fashion illustration than anything else. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you — Vanyda's The Building Opposite, a slice-of-life drama set in a Parisian apartment building, actually benefits from the style, giving it a breezy feel that augments the casual storytelling admirably. Nothing about the storytelling suggests high drama, but neither does it nod toward low comedy or broad caricatures, either. It feels like the world in which the building sits is being sketched in as you walk around within it.


Sequence from The Building Opposite; ©2003 Vanyda, English translation ©2006 Fanfare/Ponent Mon.


Likewise, the characters aren't presented with sweeping dramatic arcs in mind. The reader drops in and follows a group of studiously ordinary people around, picking up their subtle character tics and mannerisms as the narrative unfolds: People screw, play videogames, watch the kids, take out the trash and walk the dog as routine and circumstances dictate. You pick up pretty quickly that there will be no grand love affairs or violent deaths involved. Little moments and vignettes slowly accrue until you feel right at home in the pages, and boredom, happily, does not ensue. The high moments that do occur — a party, a baby's birth, a brief fling with an ex-husband — feel noteworthy because they punctuate lives rather than plot points. All told, The Building Opposite is a pleasant little book, and that's all one really needs to recommend it, regardless of whether or not it shares some affinity for the suddenly popular output of a given nation's cartoonists.


This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.


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