The Gorgeous Harbour/Le Port Magnifique – Graphic Novel Review

Let me start by saying that this has become one of my favourite books ever since I first read a copy many years ago. It has stuck with me long after each session I have read it and it has had a large impact on how I view the graphic medium.

Created by Mr Clement this book aims to explore some deep meaningful subjects in a very unusual and fascinating way. Each right-hand page features 2 panels which often look very similar but like an animation, move ever so slightly. It proves that the tiniest head movement or shift in the eyes is enough to express all kinds of feelings and noticeable changes in a character. The left-hand page is where the text occurs (albeit infrequently). The dialogue/monologue is told in parallel in both French and English leading to a really interesting notion of where in the world these characters are (if on a world at all). The artwork, although mainly in black and white does sometimes splash striking colours to draw the readers eye and make them pay special notice to parts of the page.

Onto the actual story; what’s it all about?

Well, that’s a good question. You could argue that it’s about everything and nothing all at the same time. The tale follows the adventures of ‘Astrolapin’, a humanoid spacesuit wearing rabbit (hence being literally called Space Rabbit in French). As he/she travels throughout their very sparse world we meet a variety of other characters who are all a lot more complex than first opinions may suggest. Actually explaining the story in detail is almost impossible as it really needs to be experienced to fully comprehend how well it adapts emotions into images. It feels almost like Mr Clement has unloaded their mind onto the page and have released their innermost feelings and thoughts on life as an interestingly captivating exploration into this familiar yet entirely unfamiliar environment.

Everyone that reads the book may come out with a different feeling or a different interpretation on each of the characters. I personally see it as a journey through 90’s pop culture, while touching on some very interesting aspects such as Gay Rights, the increase in consumerism and even the way in which pornography was becoming far more ‘accepted’ in mainstream culture in both its production and its distribution. I also see the main character of Astropalin as an extension of the artist as she guides us through the deep and complex mind. These things are just a fragment of what I personally have drawn from the book and each time I read the book my opinions adapt and change, for example reading it when I was in my late teens was very different to me reading it in my late twenties. The book almost feels as if it grows with time and evolves with the reader.

While the story cannot be explained in a way to do it justice one can comment on the stunning artwork throughout the piece. For the most part, the line-work is fine and detailed and very sparse. The two-panel nature of each page makes it feel almost like you are reading an animation or a series of storyboards. Occasionally the panels will change size which further emphasises the power of the subject matter. Happenings also occur outside of the panels at times throughout the story which allows the characters to break their confines and explore the world outside. As mentioned earlier, Mr Clement splashes colour in on occasion and even implements the use of photography to create the unfamiliar into the familiar.

The book is entirely unique in its approach to storytelling and works as both a work of true art and a deep complex study of the world around us. Chi Cheung Chan, through the name of ‘Mr Clement’, has created what I would consider one of the greatest books I have ever read and one that transcends genre and labels. It is a true masterpiece in whichever way you look at it and even with its sparse use of words, delves far deeper into our world and our lives than almost any novel I have experienced.

As I have said, the book has stayed with me a long time and is one that I find myself thinking about regularly. It does things I’d never seen in comics before or after and really does sit outside of the usual publication. I consider it a phenomenal masterpiece that crosses many mediums and it shows that its creator is truly a master of many talents and is someone who can breakdown the complexities of life and translates them into a beautiful study of who we are and what is going on around us.