First published in September 2020, the graphic novel ‘Ballad For Sophie’ by Filipe Melos, Juan Cavia is a beautiful blend of old classical charms and modern decadence. It’s been a while since a book managed to emotionally move me so much. The work is a powerful combination of art and music, two things very close to my heart, echoed wondrously in all their highs and lows.
The story follows Sophie, a young journalist she hopes to interview eccentric music legend Julien Dubois, but he shoos her away within seconds of her arrival. Adamant on getting her story on the reclusive star, Sophie camps out at his mansion’s door and wins over the old man’s time. Readers then get a movie like tale of two great musicians – one of the rich Dubois who’s pushed hard to be a great pianist, the other of the poor but naturally gifted Francois Samson. From their first meet as two little boys, to their youth through World War II, to the pinnacle for their fame as two very different kind of musicians; Dubois tells Sophie an incredible tale (even if familiar in parts) of his life and how his brilliant peer was always a haunting influence in his life.
The artwork draws you into Sophie’s world from page one, it’s vibrant, vivid and gives of a slight watercolors mixed with crayons texture. In other words, it’s kind of dreamy to look at. I love how the mood and palette of the panels keep changing according to the scene at hand. There’s a lot of yellow and some of the color combinations are very Andy Warhol like, they look like pop-art, but with more muted tones. There’s a touch of fantasy to the plot, owing to the fact that Dubois recalls his teacher to be a goat, so you have a somberly dressed gentleman with a goat-head often appearing through the graphic novel.
‘Ballad For Sophie’ delves into tested tropes, but the artwork gives them a dash of life that mere wordy novels can’t easily achieve. Sophie is only a secondary protagonist, it’s the eccentric reclusive Pianist/Showman Dubois who’s the flawed hero of this tale. A man forced to live his mother’s dreams, bitter through his life for not possessing the kind of talents some can only be ‘born with’. His story is quite typical of musical superstars of the 70s, filled with fame, money, sex and drugs. And that one passionate love affair which doesn’t last. It ends well for the rare few.
The climax had a sneaky little emotional twist, but even without the dramatic revelation at the end, the graphic novel has a beautiful, poignant climax. If you love music and art, you must read this. I loved loved loved it. It’s a 5/5 from me. The book is available on Kindle Unlimited.