It all started in a bookstore in Spain a few years ago with my unfamiliar role as a new father. While browsing the children’s section under the pretense of picking reading materials for my daughters (translation: selfishly shopping for myself), I stumbled on the kind of eye-catching cover I had not seen since the Richard Scarry books of my childhood.
La vuelta al mundo con Mouk, (or in the English edition: Around the World with Mouk) is a masterpiece of visual storytelling. I spent at least an hour perusing the book, meandering through each spread along with the hundreds of little anthropomorphic animals that populate the pages of this technicolor world busy with the most sweet and bizarre activities. FYI: I don't read Spanish.
Back in NY I ransacked every website that carried books by Mouk’s creator: Marc Boutavant. I checked amazon.es, amazon.fr (he is French), amazon.co.uk and amazon.com, buying any and all books and products by this artist whom, for some strange reason, I had never previously heard of. Without realizing it, I spent millions of pesos, francs, pounds and dollars because the guy is a production machine of unheard of prolific proportions. (OK, I only spent euros, pounds and dollars, but the phrase sounded better like that.)
His work drowns you in details and after you analyze every single line and surface, the expressions and interactions of his characters, your eyes zoom out and you realize that the entire composition is a sea of wonder.
Together with my colleague Hana, (whom I have converted into a Boutavant groupie), I pondered one question endlessly: “How the hell does he do it?”
I did some shallow inter-web research and it turns out Boutavant is most famous in France for his children’s comic book Ariol, the story of a primary school kid in a world in which everybody is an animal (Ariol is a Donkey). The drawings in Ariol are sketchy and the lines are primitive, almost crude. Therefore, I assumed that Boutavant’s more illustrated work was hand painted, and I was impressed with the level of precision of the details. However, when I posed the question to the Google oracle, it quickly informed me that my assumption was wrong.
But instead of feeling disappointed by this fact, I was even more in awe because my finely tuned eye had been tricked. His mastery is such that the difference of medium, paper vs. computer, is rendered totally irrelevant. His work overcomes all boundaries: It can be appreciated by the adults and children of all countries and, as in my case, also Spanish language illiterates.