Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Vincent by Barbara Stok

Vincent cover As a long time Vincent van Gogh fan, imagine how thrilled I was to find this graphic novel about the last few years of his life, the most creative time for him when he produced hundreds of drawings and paintings.
The first impression I had, when I saw a few pages of the book online, was that it made his everyday life more real and that is certainly the focus; Vincent as a working artist.
The book begins in February 1888 when Vincent’s brother, Theo is seeing him off at the train station in Paris as he leaves to move to Arles. The rural landscape and colors of the south of France inspires Vincent and we see him working in locations we recognize from his iconic paintings. I really liked that, it reminds us that the locations he painted are real places and go beyond the canvas edges. It also emphasizes what artists feel when they are trying to capture a scene or an object, a “within-without” perception.
Vincent is shown engaging in ordinary activities, including his attempts to make friends and his dreams of creating an artist’s utopia in the yellow house that he rents. Excerpts of his letters to Theo are interspersed between frames of the comic.The dramatic moments, such as the infamous ear incident are dealt with briefly, this is a story about Vincent as a person, not a legend. Thus, even his suicide is presented in a unique and non-graphic manner, it was powerful and touching in a splendidly quiet way. vincent1
The drawings are done in a pleasant, simple style, yet we can recognize the characters. Though most have dots for eyes, there is still a range of facial expressions conveyed. For some reason, the mailman Joseph Roulin, is always portrayed with at least one eye(sometimes both) as an X or a swirl. I’m not sure why, considering that he was a devoted family man who was a good friend and not particularly eccentric. When Vincent is having unstable episodes, the author places little tiny dots all over the frame, in severe ones, these are broadened into little lines going every which way, like flying fur. This is not a biography to begin learning about van Gogh, (though I’m sure it will be for some), because there are incidents past and present which are hinted at, but not fully explained. For people like me, already familiar with the story, that’s fine, but for those who aren’t, it might be confusing or at least, lose some of their meanings.
The author, a prize-winning Dutch cartoonist, has done a terrific job in making Vincent more of a real person than the usual image of him as a crazy painter. She has highlighted the intriguing parts of his life with compassion and touches of humor, which deepens our understanding of him. It’s a wonderful addition to my collection of books about Vincent van Gogh.

SelfMadeHero 2012(2015 in U.S.) 143 pp. ISBN 978-1-906838-79-9

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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