Review: The Wild Piano
The second of the late, great French cartoonist Frederic Otohn Aristedes’ Philemon adventures, The Wild Piano, picks up right where Cast Away on the Letter A left off, the pace of the practically random, dream-like events occurring even faster than before, and the nature of those events more wild and imaginative.
Philemon has returned from the “A” in the word “Atlantic Ocean,” which you can see quite clearly on any globe or map of the world and, it turns out, is an actual land-mass, but he’s done so without the well-digger Mister Bartholomew, who accidentally dug a portal to the Atlantic in the neighborhood of the “A” while working on a well years ago.
Philemon’s dad is sick of hearing about the bizarre, clearly made-up trip, but Philemon finds a more sympathetic audience in Uncle Felix, a magician and friend of Bartholomew’s. He sends Philemon back to the Atlantic archipelago to rescue Bartholomew, this time using a different method than the well: He shrinks him down and simply sets him on a globe, continuing to shrink him until he’s tiny enough to enter the globe.
The first 15 pages passed in this set-up, the remainder of The Wild Piano races from one unlikely, nonsensical encounter to the next, none lasting more than three or four pages, tops.
Philemon meets a man who can walk on water hiking across the Atlantic, hitches a ride with a man on an airship, encounters the denizens of the letter “N,” is put on trial for bouncing on the lawn, is tossed in a zebra prison (maybe the most astounding visual, it’s a living metal cage in the shape of a life-size zebra, its stripes forming the prison bars that keep Philemon confined in its belly), is sentenced to face “the wild piano,” and on and on until he re-meets Bartholomew and finds a different way back to his hometown, emerging from a wardrobe in his uncle’s house (apparently, wardrobes are a popular form of entrance and egress to fantastical worlds).
As for that wild piano after which this adventure is named, Philemon fights it in a cross between a bullfight and a concert. Philemon is dressed in tails and pushed out into an arena, where a living, breathing grand piano charges him on its three legs, intent on trampling him; if he manages to play a single chord on its keys before being killed by it, he goes free.
As with the previous volume, Toon Books presents this not merely as an escapist comic but as an educational opportunity, containing such back-matter as a biography of Fred and heavily illustrated notes on other pieces of children’s literature that share themes or scenes in common with the Philemon story. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland of course appears, as both Alice and Philemon suffer a rather silly trial, and both stories involve people of differing sizes in a hallway scene.
Like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, Fred’s Philemon also shares a general aesthetic of silliness and dreaminess, in which a young person is seemingly the only sane person, swept up and along the adventure until it drops the off back in the “real” world. I said the same about the first volume, of course, and this volume is just like that one—but much faster paced and more assured in its storytelling and artwork.
If each adventure gets faster and more assured, I can hardly imagine what the next one will read like, but I suppose I won’t have to imagine for long: A third Philemon book, The Suspended Castle, is listed below Cast Away and The Wild Piano under the heading The Philemon Adventures on an early page of this volume.
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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