What If We Were…?

Writer / Artist
What If We Were…?
What If We Were... graphic novel review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Top Shelf -
  • Volume No.: 1
  • Release date: 2019
  • English language release date: 2020
  • UPC: 9781603094801
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: yes
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes

Marie and Nathalie are lifelong friends who hang out together a lot, and when there’s a dip in the conversation they resort to “what if?”. What if they were Vikings? What if they were Scientists? What if they were Magical Creatures? From that Axelle Lenoir weaves a series of funny jokes around the possibilities in two pages, sometimes with a one page epilogue.

The strips were originally serialised in Quebequois magazine Curium, and seem to be printed in the order they were created. They start as random whimsical fun, although always with a witty consideration of the topic at hand, but become more sophisticated and self-referential as they continue and we come to know Marie and Nathalie better. Lenoir is keen that we do, to the extent of including extra pages specifically devoted to thoughts and interests that may not be aired in the fantasies. In this respect she’s extremely particular, almost treating the girls as a cataloguing exercise, but it actually ties into the projection of their personalities in the main strips.

Because the topics are so funny and there’s so much going on, a step back is needed to admire Lenoir’s cartooning. It’s already expressive and funny at the beginning, but develops throughout. When it really hits home how good Lenoir can be is on a strip where the cast pull faces. The results are laugh out loud funny.

Halfway through the emphasis shifts slightly with the introduction of Marie and Nathalie’s classmate Jane, who’s very keen on Nathalie, and elements of continuity occur, with references to what’s been revealed in previous strips or diary pages. The ideas, which are always strong, show even greater imagination, such as the girls challenging each other to imagine being sick. There’s more variety as well, as Lenoir moves his characters into slice of life situations, a great pairing of strips involving conversations with caring parents.

Lenoir has an ending in mind, and creatively moves a story forward while ensuring the final strips remain on theme. What If We Were… is joyful and original, and a second translated volume followed in 2023.