Retrofit/Big Planet is a small press publisher focusing on quality art comics in sturdy binding distributed in comic shops and online, where they also offer a subscription service. Their 2016 offering was particularly strong, and late in the year I experienced the strange phenomenon that is Canopy, created by French artist Karine Bernardou. Bernadou’s wordless “pantomime” style book was originally published in France in 2011, and is receiving its first US distribution through Retrofit/Big Planet as an 80 page, color comic.
At the edge of a magical wood, a little girl named Canopy grows up with her family. When she is grown her mother makes her venture into the dark forest on her own, where she encounters a loving ogre, sirens, and a man without a face… all while trying to discover herself and grow into a woman. Interspersed with stories of her relationship with her father, Canopy is a fantastic fable told with Karine Bernadou’s amazing cartoon pantomime style.
I actually read the comic without having seen the official description, and am reassured that I interpreted the plot, for the most part “correctly”. The book is made up of episodes that do seem to follow a loose chronological order, but you might get a little distracted by the sheer, vast emotional weight of the book and forget to pay close attention to the flow of the story.
Each scene in Canopy is either subtly or overtly meaningful in so direct a way that it is probably the most accomplished silent comic that I’ve ever read. Bernardou has created such a universal set of symbols of situation that you immediately understand what basic human crisis she’s presenting for her sharp-nosed, nude, imp-like character to face, and you are left to look at the smaller details, which are also intriguing and open to interpretation in meaning.
This wordless comic is stuffed with tiny strings of events that make up a wider, suggested narrative, and the order in which they are presented clearly follows the concept of a character growing up, being rather violently thrust into the adult world, and trying desperately to survive new and very confusing situations. It convincingly reminds you of the underlying savagery that’s still a major part of human life.
As one of the most psychologically revealing comics I’ve read in a long while, Canopy is disturbing for all the right reasons. It’s absolutely brutal in small details poised to shock your expectations. Some of the possible themes include motherhood, fatherhood, sexuality, maturation, mastication, alcoholism, agriculture, co-dependency, self, otherness, habitation, co-habitation, cannibalism, existential dread, evolution, predation, innocence, control, torture, and much more. Meanwhile, Bernadou’s art style is so exceptionally readable and engaging that you remain fascinated by this journey, feeling fairly certain that you’ve faced some of these elements in your own life.