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Operatic

by Kyo Maclear and Byron Eggenschwiler (ill.)


Expectations are high
for this debut graphic novel from prolific writer Kyo Maclear and Calgary illustrator Byron Eggenschwiler. For publisher Groundwood Books, Operatic follows on the success of huge literary hits Jane, the Fox & Me and This One Summer. Like those, Operatic offers a deft look at adolescence, rich but subtle, accessible but beautifully complex.

The book centres on student Charlie Noguchi, whose final assignment in Mr. Kerner’s music class is tougher than it seems: write about your song, a song that feels like home. As the class studies a new musical genre each week (hip-hop, bluegrass, disco, etc.), they also learn how art can move us in complicated ways.

Maclear has created a setting and a cast of characters that feel extraordinarily fresh, alive, and, above all, very real. As Mr. K.’s class explores a succession of soundworlds, we discover the tense network of relationships that rules their young lives. There is Emile, whose parents’ breakup has made his school life tougher; Luka, whose bold fashion sense does not inure him to his school’s casual homophobia; and Charlie’s artsy group of close friends, who have been conditioned to keep a low profile despite their obvious talents.

And then, of course, there is opera. When Mr. K. plays the class a recording of Maria Callas, Charlie is entranced and starts researching the 20th-century diva, whose own adolescence was far from simple. Eggenschwiler illustrates the presence of music throughout the story – sometimes with monochromatic lines, like the grooves of a record, other times like arabesques, or scribbles, cascading tresses, or even lightning – visualizing the way music feels. And these moments, especially those which recount Callas’s musical life, are only one example of how intrinsic the art is to the story. Eggenschwiler’s visual metaphors create their own network of social, emotional, and sensory connections. Operatic is a wonderful example of the expressive power of the medium of comics.

Evoking the early life of a troubled but glamorous diva, and populated by a fascinating cast, Operatic reminds us that no one is alone: our passions resonate outward toward those around us. This book will delight not only young people and graphic-novel aficionados but anyone who believes that art – especially opera – is a powerful force in the world.