Review by Frank Plowright
Beyond the bizarre and distracting title pun don’t come here expecting anything Bruce Lee related. Brüssli is instead a loving homage to Disney animation from the plot stitching together assorted influences to the spectacular art. It’s the beautiful cartooning of J. Etienne (a nom de plume for Etienne Jung) that convey the opening impressions. His panels resemble animation frames from a latter day Disney film, decoratively composed and coloured, featuring stunning backgrounds and exaggerated characters with a vivid sense of life about them. While the cartooning is magnificent it’s Etienne’s bold palette that really brings the book to life.
The art strikes exactly the right tone as Jean-Louis Fontenau formulates a Disneyesque environment happily mixing humans with talking animals and monsters, ensuring the latter remain just the correct mixture of spluttering indignation and greed rather than true threat. Play spot the influence, but acknowledge they’re fused to create something new and if not equally entrancing, then certainly not falling far short. The primary plot is of an awkward outsider coming to terms with who they are and in the process making a significant difference to his community. In Disney fashion this is interrupted for whimsical interludes, such as the market trader who pulls a singing rabbit from a hat or a decidedly odd trio of combative nuns.
On the day that the patriarch and main employer in the Alpine village of Stillingdorf dies, farmer Arsenius returns from the mountains with an odd looking baby born from an egg. He and Hanna raise the half-dragon child as their own, but despite referring to himself as Brüssli the Conqueror, he remains a stunted child picked on by his contemporaries. Running parallel to this is how the heir to the Schlingotte cheese factory, in the best tradition of Disney villains, has grown into a grasping woman who has nothing but contempt for the local community. Elzebeth is conspiring with the local innkeeper and some nasty wolves to scare people off their land, completely subverting her grandfather’s intentions.
Fontenau makes very good use of a talented flea, and rogue market trader Aldo proves to be more than he seems. For all his bravado Brüssli isn’t exactly equipped as a hero figure, but fortunately these are his friends, as is Elzebeth’s eccentric sister Dorette. When Disney do get around the animation, the songs will be hers. And Brüssli eventually discovers a talent he’d been unaware of.
Brüssli sustains a feelgood mood and supplies characters to root for, then dives off into left field when the story appears concluded after two chapters. While the third looks even more spectacular due to a new cast, it moves into slightly darker territory. Fontenau’s plotting incorporates greater fanciful content, is less disciplined and more rushed. Consider this the Pinocchio section of his Disney homage. Not that the charm evaporates. The fairy tale mood is sustained to the end, even if the terrors that have held the kingdom hostage for years appear a little too simply put to rest.
Two excellent chapters, and one nutty sequel equals a book that’s likely to charm the pants off any child and have the adult that reads it to them drooling over the art. Can’t get enough of Etienne’s gorgeous cartooning? It’s not been translated into English, but take a look at the first volume of Gargouilles.