“Who’d have ever thought that one day I, Charles Singulier, would give in to a whim and buy such a trifle?”
These are the first words spoken by our (first person) narrator and with them, writer, Vincent Zabus, serves readers a full-fledged character in a sentence.
Charles’ entire personality is there for psychoanalysis. His high opinion of himself. His certainty that his audience is in full agreement, hanging onto his every word and anticipating updates. A society man of the highest standing, his very name would declare him a singular person. The cause of all this hubbub? He’s purchased a bowler hat. When he talks about how “brazen,” he is, wearing it, artist and colorist, Thomas Campi, has him walk down an empty street.
The hat was meant to be his excitement for the day but Charles isn’t built to handle page two. The situation, which changes fast from page one, has the hat being previously owned by René Magritte. If Charles ever wants to take it off again, he needs to learn the artist’s secrets. A Christmas Carol set in Magritte’s surrealist world, Charles’ ‘ghosts’ are a woman that resembles Magritte’s wife, and the conductor of the train from Magritte’s painting, “Time Transfixed.”
While Charles is charged with solving the mystery of Magritte, it’s hard to know what that means. In the recent movie, Loving Vincent, there’s a mystery in Vincent Van Gogh’s death being found a murder or a suicide. You aren’t given an answer, and the film doesn’t argue for one explanation over another, but you know the question being asked. The mystery of a person is more abstract and makes it difficult to know when, or whether, Charles is successful.
A deft handling of Magritte’s themes and concepts are the moments that set the book apart. The conductor starts to walk off panel and, while that wouldn’t prevent his voice from being heard, his speech bubble moves with him, so it’s cut off on the right side. An escape room causes Charles to lose track of which painting’s a way out — the word “Door” scrolled across canvas, or the window that claims it’s not a window.
While on the subject of words, “The fonts too small! I can’t hear you!” is a cheeky sentence for comic book fans but one that can be turned back on itself. Some disembodied cursive when Magritte claims narration asserts his voice nicely, but the standard lettering for Magritte is neat and legible, but thin. A slightly darker ink and it wouldn’t be a strain to read.
Magritte was an artist who operated on contradictions and Magritte proves its point to its own detriment. No explanation of René Magritte’s work can compare to viewing his paintings, and while the biographical context offered by Magritte is useful, it won’t change your opinion of the man behind the brush… or is it ‘not a brush?’
Magritte: This Is Not A Biography is available now from SelfMadeHero.