About Betty’s Boob hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Véro Cazot
Artist/Colors/Cover artist: Julie Rocheleau
Letters: Deron Bennett
Translation: Edward Gauvin
Editor: Sierra Hahn
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Archaia imprint
Price: $29.99 US/$39.99 CAN/£22.50 UK
This beautifully designed hardcover volume showed up on my doorstep (literally) this week, and I hadn’t heard a thing about it. I was intrigued by the title and the look of it at first, but it sat on my desk for a few days until I realized it was slated for release in just another few days. I decided I should check it out, and I found it’s a translation of a French work originally released as Betty Boob (I wonder if American copyright on the Betty Boop character prompted the change in title, or perhaps just an effort to avoid confusion).
About Betty’s Boob is actually a more fitting title, as that covers the entirety of her journey. This is a story about surviving cancer and then dealing with the aftermath. We’ve seen this subject tackled in the sequential storytelling medium before, but not in the same way. While writer Vero Cazot’s mostly silent drama explores some of the familiar beats about a woman’s struggles in the wake of a mastectomy, she presents those conflicts and the titular character’s triumphs as a fable, aided incredibly well by the magical, flowing and fanciful artwork of Julie Rocheleau. By the end of the book, though, one realizes About Betty’s Boob isn’t a cancer-survival tale at all, but rather one about casting off conformist shackles and celebrating all of the beauty and silliness and passion that surrounds us and exists within us every day.
Elisabeth has lost her left breast to cancer, just as she’s lost her hair. Now she faces the unenviable task of re-entering her life — her home, her relationship, her job — as much trouble as the adjustment is for her, others seem even more ill-equipped to deal with it. A bizarre run of bad luck finds her chasing her wig across the city, but little does Elisabeth know, she may be running toward a new perspective and a completely different life.
Despite the fact this book is almost completely devoid of prose, it didn’t prove to be as quick a read as I expected — and that’s a good thing. The silent approach makes greater demands on the reader, as one has to suss out the nuance and meaning of key scenes without the benefit of narration or dialogue. About Betty’s Boob demands careful attention, and it makes the reading experience all the more rewarding.
Of course, Cazot’s efforts would be pointless if she hadn’t been partnered with someone as deeply talented as Julie Rocheleau. This is my first exposure to both creators, but I’ll definitely remember their names based on this deeply moving and creative endeavor. I see that Rocheleau is French Canadian, but not surprisingly, the book boasts a thoroughly European feel throughout. One can see an Hergé influence at work, but others make themselves known as well. Classic cartooning and animation elements pop up throughout the book. I was reminded of everything from Krazy Kat to Chris Sanders to Little Orphan Annie to Fabio Moon. I think one of the most striking moments in the visuals came when Rocheleau illustrates the suddenly growing divide between Elisabeth and her boyfriend early in the book. Their bed literally widens from one panel to the next when he pecks her on the forehead and forgoes sex.
With dollar signs dangling as her earrings, Elisabeth’s boss in the earlier part of the book is clearly a caricature, a representation of corporate greed and a culture that sees labour as cogs in the machine, not human resources to be respected and nurtured. Such symbolic elements as that — like the seemingly fleeing wig and the keepsake breast — make it clear this isn’t a grounded story about the challenges of the human condition, but rather a fable or a fairy tale. Rocheleau’s simpler color palette, mainly muted pastels, further reinforces the reverie-like qualities of the storytelling.
I would imagine that the title and cover art would make it clear, but just in case, this isn’t a book for younger readers. Despite the magical and playful tone of the storytelling, it’s very much a mature and adult book, even if it’s frequently comical and exaggerated in tone. Sex plays a key role in the book, from start to finish, which should come as no surprise, since, rightly or wrongly, women’s sexuality is linked to their breasts. One of the ultimate messages of this book is that all bodies — stereotypically attractive, or seemingly marred or different in some way — are beautiful, and that everyone is a sexual being, though many deny and suppress that aspect of their souls.
But Cazot has a larger message for her audience. Yes, she tells us to cast off the emotionally feeble and callous people in our lives who can’t adjust to our new realities, and she reminds us there is life about disaster or tragedy or illness. But more importantly, she shines a light on how the conventions and ordinary expectations of everyday life so often hold us back from discovering our true selves. She introduces us to outcasts and weirdos living their lives on their own terms who are truly happy while others are lost or obsessed with petty concerns. Betty’s foray into a world of burlesque touches on the seemingly taboo topics the writer explores here, but it doubles for whatever passion offers one true fulfillment, be it a nerdy obsession with gaming, the indulgence of a worldwide wanderlust or something else unusual and unconventional. 9/10
Note: This book is slated for release June 6.