Have you ever found yourself trapped in a horrible relationship, feeling powerless to escape? Did you long to find someone who would treat you like a human being, and would take care of you because they really loved you? I think it's safe to say we've all been in that type of situation before in one shape or form, for the "bad relationship" is a common universal experience. I've been fortunate enough to have several of them, for now I know how to immediately spot the red flags.
In Pénélope Bagieu's Exquisite Corpse from First Second Books, we follow the main character Zoe as she longs for a better life that doesn't consist of being sexually harassed at work and going home to a jerk of a boyfriend. Set in Paris, France, Zoe works as a booth babe at trade shows, dressing up in a blazer and short skirt, and other times as a sexy piece of cheese. Her boyfriend is unemployed, and watches television and smokes all day. If she's not in the mood for sex, he degrades her. He already does degrade her in general, but even more so when denied sex. What Zoe needs is a more mature, respectful gentleman.
Enter Thomas Rocher, world-famous author who's a bit of a recluse. Needing inspiration for his latest novel, he one day spies the young and pretty Zoe eating in the park. They lock eyes, Zoe smiles, and Thomas panics. From there they slowly become friends, and Thomas realizes that he's found his muse. After promising to take care of her and offering her to live with him in his upscale penthouse, they fall in love and both get what they want; Zoe a guy who's infatuated with her, and Thomas a muse to help him get past his writer's block. It all seems like the best situation for both parties until Agathe arrives.
Agathe is Thomas' ex-wife and editor, and the two of them get along swimmingly. Zoe sees Agathe as a threat to their relationship, and feels the need to compete with her for Thomas' love and affection. Agathe's thrilled that Thomas is writing again, but the two of them are intellectuals while Zoe is a bit immature when it comes to the finer things like literature. Zoe suspects something more is going on between Thomas and Agathe, not sure what precisely it is, until one day at the local bookstore she discovers Thomas' deep, dark secret that could bring an end to his honored literary career.
One of the interesting things about Exquisite Corpse is who the intended audience is; women in their early 20s-mid 30s. And yet, both men and women will find something to enjoy about it. Following Zoe in her journey to find a nice guy is entirely relatable, and her transformation from naïve loser to a powerful young woman is incredibly enjoyable to read. After getting taken advantage of for several years, her happy ending is savory.
Bagieu's illustrations are just as charming as Zoe is, with a loose style with wonderful coloring choices that make the art pop off the page. Zoe's bulbous grey eyes and petite body make her adorable to look at, and extremely expressive. The surrounding setting of Paris is also wonderfully brought to life throughout the book, which makes sense since the graphic novel was originally released in France as Cadavre Exquis back in 2010.
If you're looking for a romantic comedy with a dash of scandal this summer with eye-candy art, Exquisite Corpse is definitely the graphic novel for you. And remember to not sexually harass the booth babes at the next convention you're at; they don't really enjoy talking with you, they're just trying to get through their crappy job and on with their lives.