Find yourself inside “Luisa: Now and Then”

photo by: Courtesy of Humanoids

"Luisa: Now and Then"

What would you do if your teenage self showed up on your doorstep? What would you say? How would you respond?

It’s an interesting question and a concept that we often think about: “If only I knew then, what I know now.” Now, what if I said there is a book where that exact premise plays out?

For Luisa Arambol, this is not a dream scenario; it’s her reality.

“Luisa: Now and Then” is a graphic novel originally penned and illustrated by French auteur Carole Maurel and translated into English by Mariko Tamaki. This story unfolds cinematically with a young woman who falls asleep on a bus, only to awaken to the bustling streets of Paris. She sleepily stumbles around and realizes that this is indeed the wrong stop.

A fairly relatable occurrence, right? Who hasn’t taken the wrong exit or caught the wrong train? But this happenstance is anything but ordinary.

For the time period that this young woman harks from is the mid-1990s and, for those of us old enough to remember, some technological advances have been made since then. The world she awakens to is recognizable, but with enough minute differences to make her question her surroundings, as well as her sanity. The currency in France has shifted from the Franc to the Euro, computers have become smaller and everyone seems to use a mobile phone.

Help comes in the form of a seemingly random stranger who purchases a phone card for her, then offers to aid in the search for a relative who possibly lives in the city. Following a rapid turn of events, it is revealed that this stranger’s next-door neighbor and this out-of-place young woman, in fact, have the same name: Luisa Arambol.

Soon after the realization wears off, younger Luisa discovers her future self’s life to be lackluster. It is lonesome, with a handful of friends and with a less-appealing job than what she imagined ending up with. A scenario not usually considered when wishing we could speak to our younger selves: How would our adult lives add up when compared to the dreams we had as teenagers?

As the story progresses, via a series of flashbacks and visual cues, it becomes evident how Luisa’s current and former interpersonal situations mirror each other — a brilliant device to illustrate how both Luisas haven’t been honest or forthcoming with their own heart.

If the story hasn’t grabbed your attention, the art alone will draw you in.

“Luisa: Now and Then” is visualized with a cinematic scope, from aerial perspectives of the city to fluid tracking shots of characters as they exist in their surroundings. The present time period is told through vibrant washes of color combined with a vast sense of space and a strong sense of place. On the other hand, the past is informed through muted tones of gray with an underlying feeling of constraint with closely cropped panels. Both processes beautifully echo the characters and their stations in life through these moments.

The publisher, Life Drawn, is a brand new imprint from Humanoid Comics, an international publisher with over forty years of experience and a reputation for producing high caliber, progressive graphic novels. Life Drawn’s mission is to focus on stories with diverse or political content, and “Luisa: Now and Then” definitely fits the criteria. Maurel renders her life’s work in storyboard and 2D/3D animation. And Tamaki not only is an artist and author in her own right, but has also written for many popular titles, such as: “Lumberjanes,” “She-Hulk,” “Supergirl” and 2019’s highly anticipated coming-of-age story “Harley Quinn:Breaking Glass.”

“Luisa: Now and Then” is not simply a graphic novel. It is a tale about transformation — about how through the years, with acquiring life experience, one can learn to hide their true self as a means of self-protection. When reading it, I found myself pausing and contemplating the characters’ respective situations in relation to my own. So, check this out and you may find yourself having a conversation with who you are now and with who you were then.

— Ilka Iwanczuk is a reader’s services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


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