In Vitro is a sweet, funny French graphic memoir by cartoonist William Roy about him and his wife’s quest to have a child via in vitro fertilization. What follows is an emotional, educational, and sometimes downright hilarious look at the IVF process. Guillaume (The protagonist) and Emma deal with all kinds of doctors with weird bedside manners, all kinds of invasive medical procedure, their friends and families, and the comic’s biggest subplot: Guillaume’s strained relationship with his biological father, Jean-Pierre.
In Vitro is rendered with a light, cartoonish touch from Roy, who has a background in documentary filmmaking, and agilely transfers this skill set to comics. This is evident in Guillaume using cinema to make sense of stressful situations like a memory of falling in love with movies when his dad took him to Empire Strikes Back when he was a child to an IVF doctor reminding him of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry.
The cinematic influence is most seen in some of the techniques that Roy uses to tell the story like a kind of Super 8, reel to reel panel layouts to show how he fell in love with his wife Emma, and later on, to show how he lost touch with his father. The color palette is the difference is the scene with Roy choosing a more romantic palette for the love story and a dark, melodramatic one for the father/son story. The shift in panel style also signals to the reader that these sequences add important context and layers to In Vitro‘s key relationships: Guillaume and Emma and Guillaume and his father.
On the flip side, Roy is also a master of storytelling in a single image. Think New Yorker single panel cartoon, not a superhero splash page, or God forbid, Family Circus. He uses a lot of white space on these pages, which boosts the importance of the art in the scene. Sometimes, Roy even drops the dialogue out like when he draws a panel of the sterile container with his semen at the doctor’s office, hoping, that this time it will lead to a viable embryo and then a child. Other times, he uses it to emphasis a plot point, like a cliffhanger in a serial comic, like when his dad sends him an email: his first contact in 20 years.
William Roy’s sense of humor in In Vitro is what endeared me to his work and to this book. His first great gag in the comic is when Guillaume sees a doctor holding something that looks like rosary beads in spectacularly awkward scene at his and Emma’s first IVF appointment. An intern is present so Guillaume is definitely feeling uncomfortable, and that feeling is tripled when he finds out that what he thought were rosary beads is a medical device that is used to measure his testicles. Roy finds the funny, surreal in all of it, and makes quite a few masturbation jokes as Guillaume and Emma deal with rude, incompetent doctors and finally find someone good ones thanks to his surprisingly compassionate boss at the TV network where he works as a film editor. Also, he goes into full cartoon mode every time he explains the medical context of the story and even creates a silly, exasperated doctor character to deliver the exposition in an amusing way.
Speaking of the boss, William Roy, for the most part, avoids stock character types in his storytelling in In Vitro and instead revels in the idiosyncracy of human nature. One gynecologist seems sleazy, not making eye contact while he converses with while an anesthesiologist is a terse, bundle of nerves quickly asking Emma what kind of anesthesia she would like during the IVF process. To go with the cinematic elements again, Roy is a skilled cast director, picking the right character actors to people the halls, offices, and corridors of the clinics and hospitals that Guillaume and Emma find themselves at.
William Roy is vulnerable, funny, and turns in some great sequential storytelling In Vitro showing a real mastery of layout, color palette, and having symbolism tie into the story instead of just having it to make him look clever. He can do both sad (Guillaume looking at the kids with their parents on the playground.) and wacky (Guillaume as a sperm) and is a cartoonist who I would definitely want to see more of.
Story: William Roy Art: William Roy
Story: 8.6 Art: 8.8 Overall: 8.7 Recommendation: Buy
Humanoids/Life Drawn provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review