Review by Frank Plowright
One day Rebecca caught a cold, and ever since she’s been accompanied by a giant green germ called Ernest. He’s best pal, advisor and only Rebecca can see him. As seen in My Best Friend is a Germ, he’s also provided a form of comfort as Rebecca’s parents have split up. She’s confident their separation is merely temporary, but the way Guillaume Bianco and Antonello Dalena show their point-scoring and bickering, it’s not looking likely.
As before, the format is largely a single page strip leading to a punchline, although that’s not exclusive. Departing from formula, the first quarter of Sam the Repulsive is an Ernest-free zone as he remains at home while Rebecca stays with her father, who in turn is staying with his brother. It’s domestic comedy, and in some strips Rebecca is also absent as older sister Coralie attempts to improve her school standing and love life. As shown by the sample page of Rebecca returning home, Dalena’s cartooning is wonderfully expressive in the great Franco-Belgian tradition, but in some cases there’s no attempt at all to lead up to a joke, and many that do feature are weak. Only rarely does the combination of plot and art hit the spot,
The title refers to Rebecca’s mother’s new boyfriend, not seen until near the end, but viewed by Rebecca as a dangerous microbe infesting the family, so she goes into training to see him off. She’s none too keen on Coralie’s boyfriend either. The final pages introduce Sam in person, and begin a plot to be continued in Grandpa Bug, with Rebecca sent away to her grandfather for a holiday.
As with the first volume Ernest and Rebecca looks fantastic, but suffers from several problems. The obvious Calvin & Hobbes comparison of a child and imaginary friend is heightened early by Rebecca and her father adopting robot voices to communicate as if on a spacecraft, and it’s really puzzling that Bianco would underline his source. Bill Watterson produced beautifully paced gags running three to four panels on a daily basis, but with as many panels as will fit on a page at his disposal, Bianco will fluff the punchline or drag out a joke too long. Beyond that there’s a lack of focus. The awkwardness of Coralie’s relationship just isn’t worth the number of pages it’s allocated.
What saves all the misfires time and again is Dalena’s talent. He draws Rebecca as a fantastic bundle of energetic enthusiasm, Coralie as a wonderfully observed sulky teenager, and Rebecca’s father as an amiable goon. They’re all instantly relatable, placed in expressive poses and rich backgrounds. Let’s hope the scripts he’s supplied for Grandpa Bug improve.