I cracked open Jeet Heer’s In Love With Art: Françoise Mouly’s Adventures in Comics with Art Spiegelman without reading the synopsis on the back (you know, so I wouldn’t judge the book by its cover or anything) and found, much to my dismay, what appeared to have been a whole lot of words. While I’m sure that sounds more or less exactly like what a book should be, I had mentally latched onto the name Art Spiegelman, ignored everything else and consequently expected a graphic novel on the same level of awesome as Spiegelman’s Maus.
Instead, I found myself with a regular biographical novel written by Jeet Heer on the subject of Françoise Mouly’s lifetime work and her struggles with being a woman in the at-the-time male-dominated art industry. Well. All right.
Sighing inwardly, I read through the prologue in which Heer mentioned an article he had previously written about Art Spiegelman that prompted his partner Robin Ganev to challenge his decision to “[leave] Mouly aside.” Essentially, Ganev saw no reason to leave Mouly out at all as Mouly has had an equally successful art career and thus deserves just as much credit and recognition as Spiegelman for her bold influence.
Heer, unable to find an adequate response to Ganev’s critique, dug a little deeper, did some interviews with Spiegelman and Mouly themselves and came out with what is now a 122-page book titled In Love With Art in which Mouly is the star … sort of.
I mean, the intention to better explore the Mouly side of the partnership is there, but rather than committing a hundred percent to Mouly’s story, it seems as though the book is just a watered-down description of the career of Art Spiegelman. There’s even a full chapter dedicated to Spiegelman where Mouly – whom I seem to remember being the subject of this biography – is completely omitted once again as Heer goes on about Spiegelman and the wonderful things he’s done.
Reading In Love with Art is like trying to follow the subplot of a movie. Though the book is based on Mouly, she’s more like the Alfred to his Bruce Wayne, the Sonny to his Cher, the Samwise to his Frodo. She’s the Woody to his Buzz in the part of the movie where Buzz Lightyear toys are all the rage, and pull-string cowboys are old hat. In less ridiculous words, Mouly’s portrayed as a sidekick in her own story, which is sort of the opposite of what Heer set out to do.
That being said, though the book may not have attained the voice Heer was shooting for, he does manage to make what I thought would be a mundane and unfortunately boring biography into quite the interesting read. At no point was I bored. If anything, I learned a lot more than I expected I would. It’s not a style of writing you can pin down as enticingly flavourful – it is, after all, a biography – but there’s something in the way Heer puts down words that makes you want to keep turning the page no matter who – I mean what – the subject is.
It took me an embarrassingly long time to get the double meaning of the title In Love With Art, but once my brain caught up to the obvious, made the following joke out of cattiness and took a second to ponder, I was left sincerely wondering if the love Jeet was talking about was Mouly’s or his own.