Review – Bolivar HC (BOOM! Studios)

Publisher: BOOM! Studios (Archaia imprint)
Writer/Artist: Sean Rubin
Release Date: 15th November 2017

Young Sybil is becoming a more than little obsessed with her next door neighbour, Bolivar. He goes about his business without anyone really taking much notice of him, but Sybil can’t help but notice.  She can’t help but notice the fact that he’s eight feet tall.  She can’t help but notice the fact that his skin is grey.  And, well, she can’t help but notice the fact that her neighbour Bolivar is a dinosaur.

Bolivar is an original graphic novel from New York artist Sean Rubin, recently released as part of BOOM! Studios’ Archaia imprint, and it’s lovely.

Rubin’s artistic style feels strongly reminiscent of Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes, which is probably one of the highest compliments I can pay it. It’s not derivative by any means, but there are definite similarities in terms of the energy, the pacing and the fresh-faced, cartoony aesthetic throughout the course of this book.

Rubin has opted for a somewhat unconventional square-cut book, with plenty of creative double-page spreads throughout his story. He does a great job of using the space on the page, packing it with endearing details and colourful supporting characters as Sybil desperately tries to get a definitive photograph of her enigmatic, prehistoric neighbour.

The character design is well-considered, with Sybil’s relentless sense of adventure practically bursting out of the page, while her weary mother’s repeated attempts to curtail her daughter’s passion conveys an amusing sense of futility.

Rubin also has a lot of fun with Bolivar himself, keeping him confined to the periphery for the bulk of the book. For the most part, all we are given is brief glimpses of a scaly tail or the side of a head as he calmly goes about his business amidst the bustle of New York City.  It’s a fun approach that mirrors the central theme of the book – the fact that people don’t really take the time to notice what’s going on around them.  And, while we eventually do manage to get a good look at him, and get to know him a little better, his elusive nature and gift for blending into crowds really helps to give the book a fun, exciting feel.

Rubin also shows a great sense of comic timing, nailing the more humorous aspects of the book – such as the moment where people finally realise that Bolivar is actually a dinosaur – with a real sense of gusto. The story itself is fairly straightforward, but the charm of the concept and the clear affection Rubin has for New York – not to mention the innate likeability of both Sybil and Bolivar – keeps the pages turning throughout.

It almost feels like a children’s picture book at times, with a straightforward story and some amusingly illustrated moments, and while it may be firmly aimed at younger readers, it’d be a cold-hearted person who doesn’t raise at least a little smile as the relationship between Sybil and Bolivar gradually unfolds.

Rubin’s narration is filled with whimsy and humour as he describes Bolivar’s life in a matter-of-fact manner (“like most dinosaurs, Bolivar lives on corned beef sandwiches and tonic water”), and everything is kept suitably light and uplifting throughout.

A sweet, humorous and incredibly uncynical story, Bolivar is a beautifully illustrated love letter to New York with a broader message about taking time to appreciate what’s going on around you. If you have a younger comic reader in your life, or if you want to feel like you’re once again a younger comic reader yourself, then you could do a lot worse than picking this one up.

Rating: 4/5.

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ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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