By Anouk Ricard
Drawn & Quarterly/Enfant, $14.95
In format, the new Anna & Froga book resembles a cross between a children’s picture book and a comic book, with a hard cover, a big, almost 8 x 10 inch size, and captioned, painted illustrations following each of its seven comic-strip stories.
That also happens to describe the content pretty well.
The title characters are a little girl with severe, brunette bangs and her friend, a large frog wearing red rain boots (I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is Anna and which is Froga). Their circle of playmates include Ron, a cat, Christopher, a large earth worm, and Bubu, a dog that looks like Ricard’s cover version of a Richard Scarry dog. The charming stories they star in mainly revolve around their different play activities, including making a dance video and, later, a movie, or playing tennis or cards, or going to a lake.
The humor comes from the generally gentle personality clashes between the friends, mostly centered around the persnickety and somewhat bossy Bubu, although Anna’s child-like selfishness and Ron’s lack of patience with the others lead to some of the better gags (as little-kid friendly as the book’s stories are, these friends can be a bit acid-tongued, and they bust on one another like real friends are wont to do).
It’s Ricard’s artwork that’s most likely to grab the reader’s eye, whatever her age, and linger in his mind.
The various character designs are all quite striking, the strangeness of the anthropomorphic animals accentuated by their everyday surroundings, which only Anna seems to belong to. In the comics, they are rendered in a very thin line, with wiggl-bordered panels as slim and dashed-off looking as the handwritten dialogue in the bubbles. The settings and backgrounds are filled with little details, even if they aren’t realistically rendered, and Ricard’s use of bright, bold color is quite judiciously employed.
There’s a lot of white left on the page—Anna’s skin and Ron’s fur are as white as the paper the comics are printed on, and large portions of the background are generally left white (the walls and parts of the floor in their house, for example, are white, and several of the stories are set outside in the snow. The other characters—green Froga, pink Christopher, brown Bubba—pop off the page, as do important objects and props within the various comics.
Each story is followed by a two-page painting,in which the characters are all more colorful and given a more solid presence and rougher texture. These function sort of like “extras” to the story that just preceded it. In the first comic, for example, Anna and friends are trying to make a dance video to win a contest. It’s followed by a two-page painted sequence entitled “The Moves,” in which we see Froga and Christopher demonstrating The Bridge, The Skater, Saturday Night and the other dance moves that apparently made up the dance routine.
This is the second of French animator and cartoonist Ricard’s Anna & Froga collection to be translated and published in North America, following last year’s Wanna Gumball? Hopefully it won’t be the last.