Review by Ian Keogh
Twelve year old Violette Vermeer’s adventures from her base in the Cirque du Lune in the late 19th century are a curious blend of whimsy with a desire to educate and inform. In the company of artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Violette tours Paris and shows off the circus her Uncle owns, and while doing so we learn about Lautrec’s life and work. It’s an engaging presentation for attempting to bring him down to the level of a man, one attempting to remain a step ahead of his creditors, and remaining true to his artistic muse while not being able to resist a practical joke. As this is a young adult graphic novel, Teresa Radice and Stefano Turconi have to tone down activities at the Moulin Rouge nightclub, but they cover an enormous amount of ground in humanising Lautrec, dragging him down from the pedestal of his subsequent reputation.
As perhaps indicated by My Head in the Clouds being the title of this opening volume, quite a spiritual mood is present, as Violette begins to see the world through the eyes of an artist, infected by the everyday wonder of life. The impressionistic looseness of Turconi’s art reinforces this, as does the fearless use of bold colour throughout, presenting a vibrant and interesting world, an idyllic place for a child to immerse themselves. His characters can fill a panel with their presence, or shrink away recessed, but every single one of them is exceptionally designed.
Radice’s script so successfully entwines Lautrec and his world with Violette that you’ll find yourself researching if he ever did produce a picture titled ‘Angel in Flight’, but the really empowering aspect is telling children it’s okay to dream, to let the mind wander. It stretches credulity somewhat that the illustrated essay reinforcing this would have been written by a twelve year old, but the message is more important.
Violette and her world will capture the imagination and let it fly, and that’s what’s wanted from an all ages graphic novel.