The press release for French cartoonist Bastien Vivès contains an interesting phrase that perfectly sums up what his new book, The Butchery, is about: “the emotional bloodbath of a romance gone awry.” It’s beautiful in its description and cruel in its promise of delivering a story about how happiness and sadness cannot exist independently from one another.
The Butchery, published by Fantagraphics, centers on a couple that’s experiencing the commonly natural life and death cycle of a relationship. It’s lyrical in its pacing and poetic in its visuals, which come to us as hazy memories of the couple’s pivotal moments. They’re subtle and they show love at its most blissful stage and pain at its most cutting phase.
Reading The Butchery requires reflecting on the unique wounds love and romance have left behind, some wide open and still pulsating, and contemplating just how much of the good and the bad is shared between one’s personal experience and that of the characters in the book. Having a history in failed relationships heightens the range of the book’s emotional spectrum, but there’ something to learn along the way no matter the life experiences brought to the reading.
Vivès keeps to an economical but precise approach to the amount of text in the story. Being that it’s a book the reader is meant to feel, the visuals are given free reign to linger as much as they want while leaving more questions than answers in their passing. Each page only contains about two or three images at most and they’re not bound by panels or any other connecting tissue.
This changes when the book turns into a more metaphorically playful space with its subject matter. After certain events transpire, Vivès resorts to darkly funny, comic strip-like sequences where the results of a fight or a disagreement play out in a way that’s directly in opposition to the vague realities of feelings and communication reserved for the main story.
These interventions go from blunt reactions to bad news to how confusion can manifest in a fantasy of violence and cruelty that one can’t avoid laughing at (if only to keep the tears at bay). They offer a nice break from the all-too real aspects of the relationship’s trials and tribulations and they end up being some of the book’s most memorable sequences.
The Butchery lives up to its title and expands upon the preconceived definitions of the word that gives the book its name. Vivès goes to well-traversed territory regarding love and loss, but he brings a different tool set to explore where our minds often go to when experiencing such things. It’s designed to make readers feel every emotion known to humans in love or who have loved and it leaves you no choice but to keep reading.
Story/Art: Bastian Vivès Translation: Jenna Allen
Overall: 10 Recommendation: Read and get ready for pain…necessary pain.
Fantagraphics provided Graphic Policy with a free review copy. The Butchery is on sale now wherever books and comics are sold.