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PANEL BUSTING: Interiorae by Gabriella Giandelli

Photo-illustration by Madeline Rombes.

Discussed: Interiorae by Gabriella Giandelli 

(Fantagraphics Books and Coconino Press, 2005)

The sad, forgotten beauty of the in-between moments of daily life: playing a board game at a kitchen table just cleared from a family dinner; listening to music having just slipped off your shoes; daydreaming while doing the dishes. What would it be like if a series of graphic novellas tried to capture these moments? What if it also featured an omnipresent, invisible rabbit that could change sizes and a dark, cloud-shaped creature (“the Big Blind”) living in the basement of an apartment building that fed on the memories, dreams, and nightmares of its inhabitants? It would probably be something like the Italian comic-book creator Gabriella Giandelli’s four-part series Interiorae.

The images below come from Volume 1 (2005) as we are gradually introduced to various tenants—and ghosts of tenants—in an apartment building in an unnamed country, as well as the rabbit, who, speaking directly to us, says that he (it?) “can go wherever I want. I move through things.” What’s disarming about the whole thing is not that the rabbit is menacing or dangerous, but that he has access to every possible space in the building, and that we can see him while the tenants cannot.

The three panels below—depicting a ghost family that died in an airline crash in 1972—show the cinematic sweep of Giandelli’s perspective. The top panel is akin to an establishing shot, orienting us to the space of the room in dimensions that echo those of a movie screen. The two panels beneath offer medium shots that, in the case of the father, reveal information (he is not sitting on the couch simply watching his daughters, but is listening to a Simon & Garfunkel record) that is not available in the widescreen panel. What are his thoughts at this moment? Is he lost in the music? Is he creating stories in his head to go along with the songs? Or, is there a sadness on his face because—impossibly—he senses that his family is doomed?

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The next four panels, from near the middle of the story, take us into a bedroom where two teenage girls navigate a conversation amidst the everyday distractions of media: a song on the radio, the computer screen, the book that the girl on the bed reads. But there is also a small detail in panel four, either innocuous or creepy. Draped flat across the bed is something that resembles a human body. The girl’s foot rests, casually, upon its arm. At first you think it’s a hooded sweatshirt perhaps, or a robe. But then you remember that the rabbit can see ghosts, too, and you begin to think that the object on the bed is a deflated person, the shell of someone, the afterglow of a life.

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The comic-book artist and theorist Scott McCloud has written about the freedom—the freedom to choose where to look—that comics and graphic novels offer and that distinguish them from other visual and textual narrative forms. “The artist has a lot of control over what happens in the panels, but he or she is at the reader’s mercy between the panels. Whereas in prose, or motion pictures, or virtually any other narrative form, you don’t have that rhythm—you have more of a continuous construction going on,” he has said. For instance, in the bedroom frames, your eyes might move from the rabbit in the hallway in the first panel diagonally down to his appearance perched on the bed in the fourth panel. Or, perhaps your eyes will first be drawn to the close-up of the girl in panel three, or, more specifically, to her eyes. And these choices of where to look first, unconscious and unplanned as they may be, determine how we piece the narrative together, making it our own. The panels themselves take on shades of different meaning depending not only in what sequence they are looked at, but on what parts of them are looked at as we visually assemble our own interpretation.

The final three panels, from near the end of the volume, depict the rabbit reporting—as he apparently does every night—to the Big Blind, whom Giandelli has referred to as a form of “collective memory.” These images, like so many others in Interiorae, are governed by a wavering ambiguity. Why, for instance, has the tenant in the first panel opened her door? Has she heard something, and if so, how? The rabbit is invisible and silent to those who live in the building, and yet, in an earlier scene, a dog recognized and growled at his presence. Strangely, it is the rabbit that nudges and awakens our own collective memories, as he conjures the invisible pooka in rabbit form in the 1950 film Harvey, or the Frank/rabbit character in Donnie Darko, or Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. We somehow know this rabbit.

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Giandelli has said that she listened to Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s first album, F# A# , while working on Interiorae, and you can almost hear it in the panels: the swoosh of the free-floating narratives, the sound organized around a melody and then collapsing suddenly, the subtle gear shifts between genre conventions, the found-sound of the everyday. There is an almost radical democracy to the music of Godspeed, just as there is to the pages of Interiorae, where the easily forgotten, small moments are revealed to be the sweetest and most important moments of all.


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