Most personal memoirs are relatively straightforward stories. That’s not applicable to Forget My Name where Zerocalcare (Michele Rech) takes a wild associative journey through his past, unlocked by his grandmother’s death. A search for a favourite ring in her flat turns up all kinds of unexpected revelations along with family secrets, and while confronting those Zerocalcare also confronts his past, incorporating a fair amount of guilt and regret.

Although he’s Italian, Zerocalcare’s grandmother was French, and maintaining decorum and appearance were priorities for her, which feeds into other people being accorded representations, shown as forms of animals or Spartan King Leonidas. These quirks, frequent appropriate metaphors and what seem to be free associations provide an illusion, presenting what’s actually solidly structured and well planned as random, as both Zerocalcare’s own past and the more astonishing past of his grandmother comes to light. There’s an honesty about both, brutal self-assessment for the author and more kindly revision of thought about his grandmother.

A fair range of moods are required over the course of Forget My Name, and it’s perhaps surprising that Zerocalcare’s efficient stylised cartooning can encompass them all. Anger and exaggeration are par for the course, but sorrow and tragedy are also needed, and an illustration of his grandmother when younger standing in the rain with two infant children is indelibly poignant despite her being drawn with a bird’s face. That’s doubled when the reasons for the scene are revealed.

Dealing with his grandmother’s death has obvious emotional overtones, but it leads Zerocalcare into processing his own state. Why is he so repulsed by the pain of others? Why can’t he cry? Why was he such an unpleasant and entitled teenager? Answering some of those questions is logical, but in answering others Zerocalcare becomes too fanciful when extrapolating what’s already a fascinating story, albeit one that would never otherwise entirely nail down the detail.

It leaves Forget My Name with moments of brilliance and great conceptual leaps, but ultimately straining too hard when in this instance a more traditional and consistent approach would have been stronger.