Aimée de Jongh’s debut graphic novel arrives on a wave of accolades. The author is a prize winning cartoonist and animator, and The Return of the Honey Buzzard has been incredibly successful in its Dutch release. This translated edition, published by Self Made Hero, aims to bring de Jongh’s work to an English speaking audience for the first time, and, to be honest, it’s going to be a lukewarm reception.
The Return of the Honey Buzzard tells the story of Simon, who is struggling to let go of his family bookstore after years of debt have finally made it unmanageable. After witnessing a suicide during a trip to pick up some stock, he becomes increasingly withdrawn as he recalls a similar incident from his childhood. Then he meets a young girl, Regina, with whom he forms a bond that may help him escape from the cycle he has found himself trapped in.
Let’s start with the good stuff. De Jongh is an incredible artist. She has a blend of European and Manga styles which totally suit the tone of the story she’s telling. There are a number of pages which are totally wordless, and the impact of these cannot be understated, it’s in these silent sequences where the weight of guilt and grief, and the strange, complex mixture of emotions that Simon is going through really take hold.
In fact, de Jongh has created in Simon a very interesting and complicated character. His story isn’t straightforward, and the trauma he’s trying to process is anything but simple. Flashbacks to his childhood seem like they’re going one way, but de Jongh cannily swerves the plot somewhere else, and where she could find an easy solution, she refuses, and delves into the complexities that come with similar real life events.
It’s in Regina that all of the problems lie. Look, we’ve probably had our fill of manic pixie dream girls, and Regina is just the latest in a long line of them. She comes into the narrative seeking help from a bookseller to write an essay on magic realism in fiction and there is a massive no-prize if from that sentence you can guess the twist that comes at the end of the book. Regina is so ill defined as a character that other than the topic of her essay, I couldn’t tell you a thing about her. She feels oddly like a last minute addition to the story – shoehorned in just in case anyone didn’t understand what the point of the book was, and that’s a problem, especially when you have a character as fascinating and well written as Simon.
The Return of the Honey Buzzard is also very overwritten. It’s too long by a number of pages, and a midsection is devoted to recapping events we’ve literally just read about. That’s fine if you’re dealing with a monthly comic released in single issues, or a weekly newspaper strip, but it’s unnecessary here.
Any Cop?: In the end, The Return of the Honey Buzzard is worth a read. It’s a debut book by an enormously promising graphic novelist, and when de Jongh lets her art do the talking it really works.