My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill
written by Jean Regnaud
illustrated by Émile Bravo
Five-year-old Jean has a busy father, a pugnacious younger brother, a grouchy schoolteacher, a kindhearted nanny…and a mother who has long been missing. Where has she gone? His next-door neighbor Michele seems to know and delivers regular postcards from around the world addressed to Jean from his mommy. At school, at home, and with family and friends, Jean slowly but surely comes to terms with the realities of the world out there and the strength within himself.
My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill is a semiautobiographical French comic album written by Jean Regnaud and illustrated by Émile Bravo. Critically acclaimed, it has won both the 2008 Essentials Award at the 35th Festival of Angoulême, France, and the 2008 Tam Tam Literary Award from the Salon du Livres et de la Presse Jeunesse. Bravo’s short story “Young Americans” was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2008. This is the first of the creators’ long works to be published in an English translation.
On the surface, there does not seem to be much in the way of a narrative arc to the storyline. Jean’s days are a disjointed mixture of reading lessons, pillow fights, and annoying older relatives. Nothing world-shattering happens here, not even, for example, when a terrified Jean is instructed to visit a school psychoanalyst. But then, “world-shattering” would not be the point. In actuality, this graphic novel is an exquisitely subtle coming-of-age tale: It begins with a young boy anxious about what other people think of his motherless family and ends with that same boy, only half a year later, located happily in a world where only he—and not who, what, or where his mother is—matters. It is, in short, about the realization of a child’s selfhood.
Artistically, this comic is a fascinating amalgamation of visual techniques. Some pages are little more than pinup illustrations with or without accompanying text, identical to what you might find in a children’s picture book. Other pages are sequences of sequential art without panels, while still others have conventional comic-book-style panels and layouts. There are also numerous single-sheet vignettes that resemble the sort of situational humor that is the bread and butter of newspaper funnies. The last works especially well, given that both the artwork’s style and the story’s thematic mood bear a certain amount of resemblance to Charles Schultz’s Peanuts.
My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill has been published in English by Fanfare as an oversized hardcover book that builds an elegant, transitional bridge between children’s picture books and graphic novels. By teaching young people the set of visual literacies necessary to read sequential art, this modest yet meticulously crafted work may help to make some of them lifelong comic book readers. Furthermore, the volume is high-quality and durable enough to sustain the countless rereadings of a young fan—or fans.