Review by Ian Keogh
The abundance of utter charm in Cici’s Journal begins on the first page with ten year old Cici’s statement that her life’s ambition is to be a writer and how she’s going to go about it. Subsequent pages introduce her mother, her friends Erica and Lena, Mrs Flores the famous writer, Cici’s hideout, and her current topic of investigation. Mr Mysterious emerges from the woods once a week covered in paint, then disappears. The answer to the mystery is wonderful, a secret to be discovered, not divulged, and one Cici eventually learns by the application of intelligence and persistence.
That’s in the first helping in a book that combines the first two volumes of a series that’s run to five so far in France, where Cici is known as Cerise. The Journal aspect of the title is because the comic strip pages are interspersed with illustrated journal entries, the few drawings also supplied by Aurélie Neyret. They cement a loveable presence already beautifully presented in Neyret’s character strong art. Her illustration delivers a personality via wonderfully considered expressions and glances, and also manages to render some characters slightly less approachable if required for the story, but without ever making them threatening. A troublesome aspect for adults with minds too literal is pages supposedly drawn by children, but too well composed. Neyret largely circumvents this by Cici being a mixed media specialist, including photos in her journal, and magazine clippings. Another endearing touch is the presence of pencil shavings, pencils themselves, bits of tape and other stationery combining to give the impression of pages just completed. There’s even an activity page at the end tying into the opening story.
Neyret’s able to shine in part due to the intuitive and emotionally strong plots provided by Joris Chamblain, who defines Cici and her world exceptionally well. Cici’s adventurous and inquisitive, but never reckless. She’s been told by Mrs Flores that a writer observes people and imagines what their lives are like, and that’s the starting point for the second adventure, which won the junior prize at the prestigious Angoulême International Comics Festival. Cici sees an old lady leave her home and follow the same routine every Tuesday, taking the same bus and always carrying a book. Why?
Chamblain follows roughly the same pattern as the first story, but significantly raises the characterisation. This time it isn’t all smooth sailing between Cici and her friends, and her mother’s becoming concerned about the deceit employed when Cici wants to go somewhere in pursuit of her investigations. Adults may think they know where this story’s going, but Chamblain will still surprise with another magnificently sentimental solution. It’s a real tug at the heart strings. The moralising is perhaps a little obvious, but children sometimes need obvious messages.
Cici’s Journal is a fantastic all-ages title. It supplies non-threatening and mind-expanding adventure for children to immerse themselves in, with more than enough charm and imagination that adults reading it to them will also be satisfied.