Carla Roncali Di Montario
$14.99 / 144 pages
Sometimes a title slips by in the weekly flow of new comic releases. You might notice it mentioned somewhere and make a note to yourself to look for it and things don’t quite work out for whatever reason. Such were the ambiguous circumstances that preceded my finally sitting down to read Flavia Biondi’s graphic novel titled Generations recently translated into English and published by Lion Forge.
Flavia Biondi’s Generations focuses on Matteo Vanni, a young man in his twenties, who left his small home town so he could live as an out and proud gay man in Milan. Three years later and following the breakup of Matteo’s relationship with Massimo, Matteo finds himself broke and without any choice other than returning home to stay with relatives all the while hoping to avoid his estranged father Danilo. Already living in these close quarters are Matteo’s aunts, A, B, and C as he refers to them, or more properly Antonia, Bruna, and Cosima; Cosima’s pregnant daughter Sara; and Matteo’s grandmother Tonia. Antonia is an emotional eater whose husband recently died. Bruna is strict, abrupt, and quite religious. Cosima seems to be the most carefree of the bunch but her youthful indescretion with a married man that left her pregnant created a rift with Tonia who refuses to speak directly to Cosima. Decades of living with diabetes has left Tonia in a fragile state requiring care from her daughters as well as a handsome nurse named Francesco and a professional caregiver Odina who is far from her native Poland.
It’s from this foundation that Biondi writes such a compelling story about the nature of love and our desire for it. In the beginning Matteo is a bit too self absorbed, indulgent in post breakup pity, and, unsurprisngly, too willing to avoid speaking with his father for as long as possible. Nor does he know how fit in with his relatives whom he feels have become a bit like strangers during his three year absence in Milan. To start Matteo on his redemptive arc Biondi uses three characters. Matteo’s cousin Sara who faces the world with a positive attitude. Sara, who has seen through the cover story Matteo’s father concocted to explain his absence, plants the idea of attempting a reconciliation while simultaneously giving her cousin unconditional love and support. Next is the embittered, strict, and religious Bruna. She provides the impetus for work even if she does so with a threat. Lastly is Francesco, grandma Tonia’s nurse, who imparts the idea of making plans in life rather than wandering aimlessly through it. While Matteo is the central character, the title is Generations and Biondi created a rich family history filled with flawed dynamics from which she can explore choices and consequences of previous generations. A notable example is Matteo coming to an understanding of himself after contemplating Aunt Cosima who as a single mother bore the brunt of her own mother’s disappointment. Speaking of Cosima, there is a scene toward the end between she and her mother that is so beautiful and compassionate that I caught my breath. The latter third of the story illustrates how well Matteo has implemented these lesson to improve himself. There is an incredibly sexy, loving, and thoughtful scene with Matteo and Massimo about starting over again. Through fulfilling even the most mundane of tasks for his grandmother Matteo demonstrates the importance of presence. Taking Sara’s positivity to heart allows Matteo the inner strength to begin reconciling with his father.
Biondi’s art has a sketch like quality which relies on thin and elegant lines to describe her characters. The same line is skillfully used to a wide variety of realistic facial expressions and emotions. One facet of an artist’s abilities is how good they are at creating visually distinct characters. Biondi’s challenge here was a little different in that the central characters of Matteo and his family needed to share visual similarites while also being distinct. The similarities reveal themselves as you go farther along in the story with each page turn. Quite a masterful accomplishment there. A note to readers with a certain proclivity: you will appreciate the body hair detail given to Francesco, Massimo, and Matteo’s father, Danilo.
Aside from the spot coloring of Matteo on the front cover, Biondi’s work here is solely in black and white with grey tone washes. While not having any prior knowledge of Biondi’s oevre, a quick search shows she has a very sophisticated sense of color and I would enjoy seeing any of her extent or future work in color. However, the lack of color in Generations allows me to focus on her characters’ facial expressions and gestures rather than letting my eye become lost in color palettes. A judicious use of pure black in outdoor scenes makes for some eye catching compositions. This limited choice evokes the feeling of old black and white family photos which I found very relatable. Biondi maintains a Facebook page for her art. You can find it here.
My knowledge of Italian is severly limited to a few phrases and beyond that what little I can possibly glean from any similarities to French, so Carla Roncali Di Montario’s work in translating the script into English for a whole new audience who would otherwise be unable to enjoy Biondi’s writing is much appreciated.
A few notes on the production side. A big thank you to whomever chose to include page numbers! Such a little thing but having page numbers makes finding little character tidbits and an especially memorable panel or scene practical. The binding appears to be a combination of sewn and perfect binding. Sewn binding is the optimal choice for making sturdy books to last for decades but its cost today often means it’s much less often used in comics collections compared to the cost effective “prefect” glue binding technique. French flaps are the softcover answer to a hardcover’s dustjacket flaps and the usage here is an understated proclamation of the story’s quality.
The unintended consequence of having numerous distractions meant reading Generations several times. Rather than being a chore, aach time I felt eager to sit down with the book and facinated as Biondi peeled back the layers of her characters’ lives and relationships. I’ve quite fallen in love with Biondi and would love to find more of her work translated and licensed by Lion Forge.
Generations is available in print and digital. If your curiosity is piqued, please consider buying Generations from your local comic shop or bookstore or Amazon if you wish.