Cover Image: River of Ink

River of Ink

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This book had a decent ending but getting there was quite a struggle. A child asked the narrator, “Why do people draw?” and the narrator went about answering the question in the most roundabout way possible. The whole story was very stream of consciousness. For most of the book I was baffled. I just kept wondering, what does all this have to do with anything? My puzzlement wasn’t helped by the fact that historical artists only showed up very briefly. At the end of the book I kind of got what the author was trying to go for but it took so long to get there.  The romance between the two ancient people was pretty interesting, but the fact that the author tried to use their (fictional) story to explain why (real) people draw just felt like a stretch.
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Combining a myth-like story with an essay about why humans feel the need to draw, "River of Ink" is beautifully drawn and recognizably French, even if you ignore the author's name. It's a pleasure to look at and the concept is lovely, but I'm not entirely persuaded by the execution.

The main character in Étienne Appert's book is an artist drawing under a tree. A child comes by and asks, "Why do you draw?", and the only answer that will do is a philosophical one, and a fictional story going back to the dawn of time, when a woman traces the shadow of her loved one when he leaves for war, to make sure she'll have something of him.

The fictional story has its charm: drawing is an act of keeping those we love with us; it's also power, and it becomes <i>magic</i> at key points, intertwining itself with the power of storytelling to modify reality. There's a part that feels like it doesn't really connect with the rest, where images are captured by way of a mirror rather than art, but while the narrative feels a bit uneven there, the idea of saving images is at least thematically appropriate.

The philosophical side is comprised of real responses given by illustrators about why they draw: Edmond Baudoin and François Boucq for the original French version; and Scott McCloud was added for the English one. And the answers are... well, for the French, they're very deep, and thoughtful, and European (I say this without reproach; I'm European myself), feeling like they're drawing on a long philosophical tradition that is well-known, often debated, but also at a distance from real life. Scott McCloud's response, on the other hand, feels rawer, more personal, more human. 

In the end, the question isn't satisfactorily resolved; but it can't be, can it? I don't think there's a definitive answer as to why we need to produce art, so all answers are likely to be different and personal.

<i>Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for offering a free ARC in exchange for an honest review.</i>
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A richly illustrated tapestry exploring the philosophy of drawing, as retold accounts from Pliny the Elder, personal family history, and contemporary graphic novelists. A well-thought-out, visually-heavy essay on why we draw.
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Hi everyone!
I have mixed feelings about this graphic novel...
The illustrations are beautiful and some pages should definitely be made into prints.
I’m sorry but i didn’t like the narration, the idea behind it is great, but the writing style wasn’t for me.
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"Why do you draw?'   "How did drawing get started?"

The artists hop into a boat and ride the River of Ink in search of the answer; to the beginnings.  The cartoon style depictions lend to a timeless sort of legend where the drawing past is 'let loose' and intertwines with the present; tongue in cheek, in a rather 'artful' way.  The sailors discover several reasons, 'why'.   To be clique, it's "different strokes for different folks".

For those contemplating drawing and for the curious, as you read, dive into this River of Ink, and swim with Saminia, with great strokes of freedom, stemming from your own perceptions and perspectives. Herein, you may well find your reasons 'why' and create your own masterpieces.

Additional bonus:  The author/cartoonist Etienne Appert interviews a fellow artist/cartoonist, the American Scott McCloud.  The interview is recorded in ink.  Enjoy the sail.

                                                                ~Eunice C., Reviewer/Blogger~

                                                                                   July 2021

Disclaimer:  This is my honest opinion based on the review copy given me by the publishers.

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A beautiful illustrated delve into the history of artwork and what drives us toward artistic pursuits.  The artwork features wonderful splashes of color throughout, with bold black strokes.
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I had a hard time getting into this title and it was not really for me. I think that the author draws really well and some of the pages were quite beautiful. It seemed at least to me that there were too many story lines to follow along. However, I am not that up to date on the history of drawing or famous artists so someone else could absolutely enjoy this book. I thought I would be getting a little history lesson but it seemed that if you already knew the stories you could enjoy it more. I did love the interview at the end with Scott McCloud whom most of us know for the fabulous Understanding Comics!
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A history of drawing, after a fashion, weaving together the writer-artist's own story, his family history, and the story of humanity at large – with particular emphasis on a fable of prehistory. It's about the why more than the when and how, and happy to expand on legends rather than getting bogged down in a search for facts which will never be reachable. It might be overwhelming read in a single sitting, but especially early on, to treat each stop along the river as a day's instalment works beautifully; at times it felt like the sort of curious animation you half-remember from one particular childhood half-term, and which nobody else ever recalls in the inevitable nostalgia chats. The prehistory strand didn't always work for me – the idea of people who don't know what mirrors are may draw from a Japanese folk tale, but given we now know that some other animals can recognise their reflections, surely this was one of the things humans have had since before we were even human? And what about natural reflective surfaces? But even when it doesn't convince the mind, it always pleases the eye. For better and worse, it is extremely French; even were you to anonymise Appert, and the idols he's interviewed and woven into the story*, there's no way you could mistake which comics tradition it comes from, and I don't just mean the nudity. But unlike a lot of works where that's the case, here I never felt that having come up via different routes, learned to overlook or accept different givens, was shutting me out; it's a deeply human and humane work about part of the core of what makes us other than entirely dreadful as a species. And did I mention it's very beautiful?

*Edmond Baudoin and François Boucq, and no, neither is a name where I have more than the faintest recognition – though as a bonus for Anglophone readers, the English edition comes with an appendix where a Scott McCloud interview is likewise rendered in graphic form. That includes some excellent McCloud homages, which leads me to assume the other two are likewise being referenced in the style of their passages. The McCloud is, as one has come to expect from him, right on the border between winning and terrifying – "I see art as an antidote to life. [...] I will not accept having only one world. I can see so many in my head." I completely agree, while also recognising these as lines you could give, unchanged, to a cosmic-level threat.

(Netgalley ARC)
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