Review by Frank Plowright
If reduced to a short synopsis, all ages comedy Ernest and Rebecca may sound totally bonkers. Rebecca is six and has a compromised immune system that’s stunted her growth and meaning she has to be very careful about what she eats and where she goes. As the subtitle informs us, her best friend is a germ. A microbe in fact, and not just any old microbe, Ernest is one of the most ancient and persistent microbes. Antonello Dalena shows its personification on the sample art as a morphing green entity that only Rebecca can see and communicate with.
That last aspect is very much in the tradition of children’s literature, or if you want to see it that way, of Calvin & Hobbes. The surreal aspect, though, very much plays against the nature of Guillaume Bianco’s strangely downbeat scripts. In one sense they’re single page gags, but Rebecca’s home life is confined and accompanied by constantly bickering parents, one of whom is frequently absent, and a sister who’s old enough to find Rebecca a pain. It’s not the usual jolly children’s escapism, and even the funnier strips are tinged with a touch of melancholy.
At the start a leap of faith is required, since the dividing line between Rebecca’s imagination and reality is never greatly clear. She has little faith in her doctor, and seems about right on that score, and when not devoting herself to Ernest’s suggestions she’s using hilarious emotional blackmail attempting to bring her parents back together.
Dalena is a very expressive cartoonist, supplying a Rebecca that can be a wide-eyed innocent, a schemer, a grump or a malevolent force of nature when setting about the hapless Doctor Fakbert. He’s diligent enough to fill in background details to create a lived-in home, and his character designs resonate.
Beneath the humour there’s a lot of truth to Bianco’s scripts, which present adult problems as seen through the eyes of a child, but there’s not a lot of escaping those problems. Furthermore, equating situations to the behaviour patterns of a virus works at first, but becomes strained, and begs the question of how much of My Best Friend is a Germ will just fly over the heads of children. It looks good and reads well in places, and is certainly well loved in Europe where nine collections are in print, but this is a series possibly best sampled before purchase. It continues with Sam the Repulsive.