Review: Jim Curious: A Voyage to the Heart of the Sea

by Derek Royal

Jim Curious: A Voyage to the Heart of the Sea in 3-D Vision, by Matthias Picard (Abrams Books for Young Readers)

Don’t let the publisher’s name of this book fool you. Although Matthias Picard’s Jim Curious: A Voyage to the Heart of the Sea was released under the “Abrams Books for Young Readers” imprint of Abrams, the work is anything but immature. Originally published in French last year, it’s the story of a young boy who, in deep sea diving gear, takes a trip into the lowest depths of the ocean where he finds a vast array of sea life, human-made debris, and even ancient mythical realms. Yet while the plot is JimCurious1simple, its execution is much more profound. The entire story is related without the luxury of word balloons or narration — with only a few minor sound effect words on the first two pages — leaving Picard’s illustrations to bear all of the weight. His art is lush and meticulously detailed, “speaking” with a resonance that is epic in scope.

What glosses Picard’s art is the 3-D visual effects that, for many readers, may be the book’s major selling point. This is the second 3-D graphic novel to be released this season, following R. J. Ryan and David Marquez’s The Joyners in 3D back in February (and reviewed on the February 24th podcast). The book even comes with two pairs of 3-D glasses — “one for you and one for a friend,” according to the front matter. What makes the effects so impressive is the fact that the entire work is rendered in black and white, with only the necessary blue and red lines inserted for visual depth. And the 3-D effects in Picard’s art are truly stunning. This isn’t a cheap kind of 3-D art, where the intended layering actually falls flat. There are moments during the visual storytelling when you want to reach out and touch what Jim, our young deep-diving protagonist, attempts to grab or tries to avoid. This is also not a work that relies exclusively on the 3-D effects for its impact. If you take off the bi-colored glasses, you can still experience the vibrancy of Picard’s illustrations. True, the presence of the red and blue lining will remind you that you’re missing out on something, but the absence of the 3-D effect will not completely derail the narrative.

Jim’s voyage into the depths of the sea is also astutely rendered. When he first leaves terra firma, all that he sees is human construction and debris, the kind of environment you would expect so close to land. But as he delves deeper into the ocean, human markers give way to aquatic life, and even deeper that life becomes brimming. Here is where we begin to see the full effect of Picard’s 3-D art, where his varied and detailed drawings pop as you read. The further into the sea Jim goes, the further from the lighted surface, the darker his world becomes, with Picard relying heavily on dark backgrounds and thick lining. Jim’s ventures take him past sunken galleons, and eventually to an Atlantis-like world. Past there, the undersea world becomes surreal, with Picard’s art bordering on the psychedelic — if black-and-white art can bear the force of “psychedelic.” I won’t give away Jim’s ultimate destination, which I guess is the titular “heart of the sea,” but suffice it to say that what he discovers is an entrance into a world that is not so foreign.

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Earlier I referred to Jim Curious as a graphic novel. One could also call it a children’s picture book and not be too far off base. It comes in a large, European album-sized format (13.1″ x 9.4″), which is also the same general size as many children’s books. The narrative is completely wordless, perfect for young visual readers. But Picard’s work differs from most children’s texts in that many of his pages contain multiple panels, making the visual arrangement tighter than the typical page-by-page sequencing of picture books. Indeed, if one wanted to problematize distinctions between “comics” and “picture books” — a difference that many comics scholars either overlook or unconvincingly argue — then this book would be perfect for that cause.

But why argue? The purpose of Jim Curious: A Voyage to the Heart of the Sea in 3-D Vision is to be experienced and enjoyed…and to do so leisurely and in full. Picard’s illustrations, in 3-D or otherwise, deserve our complete attention. Once you open the book, you’ll be mesmerized in ways similar to young Jim, who also discovers a vibrant and teeming world just below the surface of his awareness, yet there within his reach.

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Dive into some great summer reading with this and other books from Abrams/SelfMadeHero:

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The Comics Alternative is a podcast and blog focused on the world of alternative, independent, and primarily non-superhero comics.

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