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‘The Retreat’ review: A meaningful journey through loss and memory

A good graphic novel that captures the sadness and complications of friendship.

After reading and enjoying Snow Day I was hooked on writer Pierre Wazem’s ability to capture heartfelt moments no matter how small and isolated they may be. His new graphic novel The Retreat is out this week from Humanoids, which captures the relationship of three friends pre and post a terrible accident.

So what’s it about?

The official summary reads:

Two friends take off for a weekend getaway to a remote mountain area to reminisce about their third friend, now gone. From mundane conversations to intimate confidences, the two remaining pals remember their departed companion, their unique friendship, and all those things that are often left unsaid, but that remain floating in the silence.

Why does this matter?

If you’ve ever lost someone, especially via suicide, you will relate to and understand the story here. This book captures the delicate emotions one has as they remember a departed friend, but also the anger and frustrations that come with it as well.

Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?

A painful, but important journey awaits.

This book opens with two friends who embark on a trip to remember their friend in the wilderness. They hike their way to a cottage deep in the woods where they last saw him and, like memory, the story shifts between this and the literal last time they saw him on the mountain. The story cuts back and forth, which at first can be jarring, but this effectively captures the memories and seemingly trivial arguments these characters had not knowing it was the last time they’d see their friend.

Wazem writes these characters in a way that’s relatable if you’ve ever had a close, tight-knit circle of friends. They get angry, they argue, and yet they respect each other to the end. The writing makes them feel real and that helps add to the meaningfulness of the story. As the story progresses, Wazem has the reader question what actually happened, which adds a mystery element to the narrative. No matter what though the story never loses sight of the mix of emotions one has after losing a friend.

The art by Tom Tirabosco utilizes a chalk look (at least I think it’s chalk!) that adds a bit of melancholy to the story. The characters have a cartoonish look to them–an elongated nose, a pudgy build–that gives them a pleasing look albeit slightly unrealistic. That said, environments look gorgeous with forest and mountains all sprawling in a way that calms. There’s also an interesting use of white chalk for night time scenes and dark rooms that adds to the negative space.

Ghost towning it.

It can’t be perfect can it?

The nature of the characters and their somewhat abrasive demeanor to each other takes up a good amount of this short 112-page graphic novel, which further reduces the insightful impact of losing a friend. Because it’s so short it doesn’t say a lot about the subject of suicide and loss. Instead, gives the reader a snapshot of three friends who have lost someone and two brief times they were together before and after the incident. It’s an emotional journey, but a short one.

Is It Good?

The Retreat is a reminder of how comics and graphic novels can capture incredible emotion, heartbreak, and meaningfulness in impactful ways. This work has a strong message and utilizes shifts in time to capture the memory and nostalgia involved in losing someone you care about.

The Retreat
Is it good?
A good graphic novel that captures the sadness and complications of friendship.
Chalk art style captures the characters well, but the environments look gorgeous
A short book that does well to show three friends before and after a terrible accident
It's so short, and a lot of time spent on bickering, that it's message is lessened
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