Saturday, December 29, 2007

PROPAGANDA Best of 2007 - number 2

Written and illustrated by Simone Lia

For a book featuring a very cute talking bunny Fluffy is an almost unbearably sad tale. At the heart of this desperate sadness is Fluffy, a talking baby rabbit who genuinely believes that a man called Michael is his daddy. And although Michael knows he must tell this poor deluded little rabbit the truth so many things seem to keep getting in the way.

Because as troubled and deluded Fluffy is, it’s nothing compared to the mess that Michael is in. He’s a seething mass of anxiety, despair and stress, desperate for closeness, yet struggling with the demands placed upon him from Fluffy and the unwanted attention of Fluffy’s nursery school teacher. Michael has a feeling that life is just too much for him to cope with, that there’s too much weighing down upon him, too many things demanding his time, and it’s heartbreaking to see Fluffy’s love for him causing him such pain.

(panels from Simone Lia’s Fluffy, published by Jonathan Cape.
Could the question about hair be a subtle joke? Hair-hare-rabbit, geddit? Never mind…

In a telling spread, Michael’s brain map looks at his current situation and does the simplest thing it can – decides to run. His weakness is palpable. He’s just not strong enough to cope with his life. And you’re angry at him; angry that he is letting Fluffy down. But thankfully, in running to Sicily to visit Michael’s family at least some of the problems are resolved, not the least of which is Fluffy’s partial acceptance of his Rabbit nature, Michael’s acceptance of Fluffy’s unconditional love and the Nursery Teacher calling off her pursuit.

It’s testament to Lia’s writing and gorgeous artwork that we, the reader, never question the logic of a baby talking rabbit desperate for love from his daddy. It’s an even greater achievement to make the reader care so much about the characters. The sense of longing and dependency from Fluffy, the sense of anxiety, stress and desperation from Michael are all expertly realised in Lia’s wonderful story.

But in the end, as if she realised that the despair was becoming a little too much for this funny animal story, Lia gives us salvation in Michael’s acceptance of his lot in life and a pledge to find beauty in the moment. The most wonderful scene occurs late in the story as Michael’s brain turns his thoughts from “my life is a mess” to “everything is beautiful”.

Michael leans back and simply realises that it’s all worthwhile, that there is no reason to worry, no reason to be stressed and every reason to live his life and look after the one thing that has always loved him – Fluffy. The realisation strikes in the top two panels, as Michael accepts that his life will not be the perfect thing he wanted. And it doesn’t matter. All that matters is here and now. All that matters is one tiny life is dependent upon you and you’ll never be happier than when you accept this. That perfect moment in the last panel is all that truly matters.

What Simone Lia manages to do so very well in Fluffy is capture a parent’s intense feelings of desperation, the continual worry and that guilt ridden selfish thought that your life is being taken over by someone else. We all suffer this at some point as we realise that our lives are no longer our own and they’re being controlled by our small bundle of joy. Lia quietly and powerfully paints a powerful, emotional portrait of what it’s like to be a parent.

(relationships are always tricky, especially when you seem to be experiencing an ‘Amelie’ type moment;
(c) Simone Lia

Fluffy is an absolute joy of a graphic novel, full of unanswerable questions about life, love, responsibility and reality. Simone Lia’s art matched the emotional power of the story with a simplified style, cartoonish, fanciful yet capable of conveying intense emotional range in a few lines. Fluffy is achingly sad in parts yet manages to end in a way that fills even our cold, grown up hearts with joy. It’s a perfect Christmas present and a perfect book.

Originally posted at the FPI blog here.

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