As an undergraduate student studying a Bachelor of Music, Vocal Performance at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario Canada, I had the pleasure of being apart of many a Mozart performance. Not only have I had the opportunity to perform in some of Mozart's grandest operas, but Mozart's Don Giovanni was also the first Opera that I ever saw live (at the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia no less). Needless to say, Mozart and his work has had a sincere impact on me and my musical development and it is for this reason that I was so pleased when given the chance to review William Augel's new Young Mozart graphic novel.
His book is “a tender and playful glimpse into the life” of the young “Wolferl” (the historically accurate, and affectionate, childhood nickname of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) as he seeks, and finds, inspiration in everything from animals, his family, and even the dedication of his faithful canine companion, Pimperl (quoted from Press Release).
The book is less a traditional graphic narrative and more a collection of comics strips. Often times, a single page will contain two or three, four-panel strips that tell a self-contained story thematized by the title of the page, other times an entire page will be dedicated to a single-panel comic with a wonderfully crafted visual gag.
That said though, there is certainly an argument to be made that, when read together as a collection, a singular narrative of both real and fictional events in the young composer’s life could be revealed. The handling of the strip organization is done expertly and serves both the reader who wants to explore a specific playful moment in Mozart’s childhood history, or as someone who wishes to get a larger glimpse into the arc of his young life.
The majority of the books “charm”, however, comes from the strips undeniable relationship with Schulz’ Peanuts.
Not only is Mozart as well-crafted as the lovable and quirky “Charlie Brown”, but the strip completes the metaphorical allusion with Pimperl/“Snoopy” and the often goofy and adorable shenanigans that the two get into. Even Mozart’s parents follow suit and are never depicted as anything other than limbs, torsos or disembodied voices. With every strip read, the reader cannot help but bring to it the almost universal admiration for Peanuts (I mean, who doesn’t love Peanuts, right?) which means that we are instantly drawn to the stories that Augel has crafted.
And, I might add, he has crafted them very well.
His work demonstrates a cartoonist that understands how the medium works and is willing to take advantage of every possible element. From what some might call a small thing like alternating handwriting in letters to differentiate characters, to large formal experimentation with polyptych gags (see below), or subverting reading order expectations, there is something to admire in each and every one of his strips.
That said, one of the more difficult elements to include within comics is sound… and more specifically, music. Many have tried to include an authentic musical element to their work (Daniel Warren Johnson’s Murder Falcon is the most recent that comes to mind), but Augel takes an approach more reminiscent of Moore and Lloyd’s V for Vendetta (1988) and the “Vicious Cabaret” that depicted a musical score and appropriate notation that could be played. Augel’s pages often have short musical excerpts from Mozart’s oeuvre which can be played by those who are musically inclined, which is a wonderful addition.
Augel also uses music notes as icons to depict music throughout the book (see below a particularly interesting moment where he snaps the icon to suggest the out-of-tune note). This is a much “looser” and far less specific attempt to depict music in comics and isn’t particularly innovative. For me, this was the book's greatest downfall.
While I am not suggesting that the book was required to find new and innovative ways to demonstrate music within comics, I feel that by taking up content so intrinsically linked to the audial element, the book was lacking a musical spark… something that would incite non-musicians to find the music… This could have been accomplished in a multitude of ways (imagine a digital collection where the music played in the background as the comic was being read or an accompanying website that linked the music depicted within the book), and would have engaged non-musicians as much as those with a musical background. While not everyone can play the music found within the book, anyone could listen.
This, however, does not take away from the monumental fun and playful experience that this collection provides. Not only has Augel crafted a beautiful collection for music and comics lovers alike, but also for educators. The book has an entire back section, chock-full of fun games for young students to enjoy and Teachers to use in their instruction. The book is a must own in my opinion for the Elementary Music Teacher.
But whether you are an educator, a fan of music, a Peanuts loyalist, or just a comics fan looking to branch out, Young Mozart is well worth your time and a worthy addition to any comics collection.
Young Mozart by William Augel is published by Humanoids and will be released in bookstores on April 23, 2019 and comic book stores on April 24, 2019.