Slow food. Slow cinema. Slow comics?

You could, I suppose, read Ben Gijsemans’ new graphic novel Hubert in 15 minutes. It’s a slim book (86 pages) and there’s not a lot of dialogue (and, one sustained conversation apart, most of that is just odd overheard lines). Add to that the fact that visually Gijsemans constantly uses repetition and small movements and you’ve got something that can be breezed through quickly.

But that rather misses the point and the pleasure of this book. It is a graphic novel that rewards those who take their time. It is a book that asks you to look closely.

This is appropriate. The titular character Hubert is a shy, introverted art lover. He spends his days in the Brussels Royal Museum of Fine Art looking at the paintings of the Old Masters. Then he’ll go home and, when he’s not watching Charlie Chaplin movies, try to reproduce them himself. Uncomfortable interacting with other people, whether it be passing strangers or the lonely female neighbour who lives downstairs, he is happiest on his own.

It’s a sliver of a story idea, though Gijsemans carries it through beautifully. But what matters is the book’s rhythm. It’s unhurried, contemplative. To get anything out of it, it forces the reader to be so too. And this is what is quietly thrilling about Hubert. It’s a book that engages our vision. That makes us look and look again, to slow down, appreciate the thrill of small details, to see that the most mundane of activities are worth examining.

The book’s cool, stately rhythm – the muted tone and soft colouring only add to this – is testament to Gijsemans’ formal control. Indeed, he is confident enough to throw in a two-page black and white spread early on that is all urban white noise and jangling image density. It’s a spread that screws with everything around it and yet it also encourages you to then take a step back from the rush and hurry of it and look at Manet’s Olympia more closely just to soothe the nerves.

Those two pages are proof that Gijsemans can shout if he wants to, but he's more than happy to whisper. You'll get the most out of this if you are prepared to bend in and listen closely.

Hubert, by Ben Gijsemans, is published by Jonathan Cape, priced £16.99.

 

Other Books We’ve Been Reading

Beverly, Nick Drnaso (Drawn & Quarterly, £12.99)

Drnaso is a satirist who picks out suburban wounds in the blackest of nibs. In Beverly the pristine gloss of Drasno’s clean-lined art contrasts with the squirmy discomfort of his narratives. Violence is just a pen scratch away from the surface in these stories. The result is nasty, very. If Todd Solondz drew comic books …

 

 

Big Kids, Michael DeForge (Drawn & Quarterly, £11.99)

The latest graphic novel from Graphic Content favourite Michael DeForge is a coming-of-age tale that starts in the realm of teenage dirty realism and then goes somewhere far, far away when the characters are transformed into either trees or twigs (no, wait, it will make sense if you read it).

It’s the surrealism that rewards. DeForge is able to keep the narrative motoring along following its own logic while increasingly directing his images towards abstraction. The result is striking and bold. He really is a special talent.