For a debut graphic novel, Hubert is a brave and emotional piece of storytelling. It takes a snapshot of the life of a middle-aged loner, obsessed with art, who haunts his local art gallery.
While at the gallery he stares at pictures, taking photos of details, particularly beautiful women. Then, when he returns to his tiny flat, he repaints them, with some considerable skill. This is something of a surprise: a depth to the man that his external appearance and demeanour just doesn’t get across.
Then a couple of events happen that put a new spin on his world. Although subtle and melancholy, these bumps in the road are enough to disrupt the natural flow of his life.
All this is done with amazing care and stunning empathy by Ben Gijsemans. His own fascination with art clearly informs and brings life to Hubert’s character. In the museum scenes, the panels convey a feeling of detailed examination, breaking the large images into carefully observed details. Hubert’s movements, mannerisms and characteristics are also beautifully unfolded, from switching spectacles to get a better view of the detail, to the furtive sideways glance at the desk on his way out, to see if anyone’s likely to catch his eye for a farewell.
With limited dialogue this a quick but intense read, but you end up poring over the pictures because the subtlety of Gijsemans’s touch can squeeze more into a panel than you could explain in a hundred words. It’s a beautiful story, beautifully told.