Today Elizabeth and Camille join forces for a Buddy Review of Romeo X Julien by Mary Dumas and Bettina Kurkoski. The book is a graphic novel and Elizabeth and Camille share their thoughts after the blurb.
In fair San Francisco, where we lay our scene, two young men meet among the colorful and costumed crowd of the Verona Ren Faire. When Romeo first meets Julien, who is dressed in a lovely Renaissance gown, Romeo doesn’t know that she is a he. But no costume can disguise the instant and intense attraction they feel for each other. And all it takes is a single kiss to prove that Romeo and Julien are, indeed, star-crossed lovers. From that moment on, the ever romantic Romeo can only think of Julien…even as Julien is worried Romeo is interested in someone he is not.
But when the two reconnect after a party, it’s clear that their attraction is more than a fleeting thing. Julien is captivated by Romeo — who sneaks up to Julien’s balcony, who recites Shakespeare (with a name like Romeo, how could he not?), who calls Julien an angel and asks to see him again. Julien can hardly resist, not that he would want to! Similarly, Romeo is equally captivated by Julien–who lives with carefree joy and isn’t afraid to express his beautiful self in whatever medium makes him happy. Within hours, Romeo and Julien have fallen fast and hard–much to the chagrin of either respective families. Unbeknownst to our two heroes, their own fathers have a decades-old misunderstanding that threatens to complicate Romeo and Julien’s joyous relationship.
There are misunderstandings, meddlesome friends, and overly mindful relatives in this story. Each exerts a measure of influence over Romeo and Julien, but if their love is true and strong, nothing can kept them apart.
With playful nods to the Bard himself, bright colors and beautiful art, this story attempts to turn the well known tragedy into a romance, complete with comedy, family and fun.
Elizabeth: So, where to start?
Camille: How about quick impressions? Loved it? Hated it? Somewhere in the middle?
Elizabeth: Okay, to start: Art – loved. Bright colors, nice splash pages, clean character design — and detailed characters. Good movement and flow and good text; The writing and letter work were clean and easy to read. Characters – liked. Liked the variety and the humor, good chemistry between the leads. Story – cute.
Camille: I was impressed with the art as well. Kurkoski picked color palettes that were phenomenally bold and vibrant, but they worked very well. I thought the colorful pages were a great match for the mostly light and fluffy reimagining of a timeless Shakespeare tale.
Elizabeth: I really enjoyed how they moved between lighting and texture. The backgrounds — especially in the outdoor or night scenes — popped very nicely. I also enjoyed the color stories they chose for the characters.
Camille: Very agree.
Elizabeth: Speaking of … the little homages, the speeches thrown in — which was nicely done considering the setting *is* not just a Ren Faire, but a Verona Ren Faire — were really fun. Some of the asides, like “And they say love is blind. But it’s pretty stupid, too.” just worked for my sense of humor.
Camille: Yeah, the settings matched the characters and the re-telling very well. I like how Dumas and Kurkoski also make the Ren Faire theme very prominent in the supporting characters’ roles as well. I thought it gave the story overall a good sense of continuity…that the Capulets lived and breathed their art.
Elizabeth: I’m pleased that, though they were influenced, they allowed this story to be its own thing rather than being too much of just a re-telling. And I thought the ‘friar’s’ story insertion was a nice touch. I also enjoyed the background they gave the parents to explain away the so-called ‘feud’ instead of it just being an accepted thing. That grounding made the romance of Romeo and Julien feel more … well, normal. Less forced or token.
Speaking of, what did you think of the chemistry between the leads?
Camille: I agree. Given the very compressed timeline where Romeo and Julien meet and fall in love over the course of about two days, I think the extra attention given to scenes where Romeo meets Julien’s uncles (who play friars at the Ren Faire) and Julien having dinner with Romeo’s parents (where the “feud” gets directly addressed) helped add some depth to the story.
The chemistry between the leads…well, I thought it was an interesting use of instalove. Personally, I thought it could have been clearer that Romeo is an asexual character. What did you make of Romeo?
Elizabeth: Personally, I thought Romeo came off as a complete romantic. That line about how Romeo always gives flowers after the first date, with Julien mentioning he hadn’t gotten flowers and Romeo pointing out that their date hadn’t ended yet was just cute.
Camille: I rather got the impression Romeo wasn’t someone who dated a lot, so it makes sense he would take even first dates very seriously…and send flowers as a follow up!
Elizabeth: I didn’t see him as strictly asexual, but more …oh, what’s the word. Willing to date and be sexual, but having a hard time falling into an emotional relationship.
Camille: I can certainly see that…I probably just took the context clues a bit more to heart, then.
Any favorite scenes?
Elizabeth: Oh, two at least. The first is the first sex scene between Benvolio and Samuel. I’m a sucker for a sex scene where there’s laughter. Add in the sex positive drawer of toys, lube, and condoms, I really like it.
Camille: OH YES. It’s one thing to read about couples who can have fun during sex, but seeing it on page is nice, too.
Elizabeth: The expressions the artists managed just fit the characters so well, lol. They very much looked like they were having fun. Speaking of, all of the sex scenes were nicely drawn, and all of them were clearly meant to be fun as well as romantic.
How about you? Favorite moment? Or even least favorite?
Camille: I loved how well the art paired with the story. Kurkoski is tremendously talented, but I think there were some limits to how well the perspective in the art was conveyed and a bit of a lack in facial expression variety, but because the story is pretty sentimental and conflicts get resolved rather quickly, I think that creates a space where fun, happy characters can really shine.
Elizabeth: Oh yes. As a graphic novel, this is gorgeous. The scenes through windows, or under shaded trees were all so well framed and lit. Just lovely. That’s usually my main nitpick on books like this — graphic or otherwise. It’s all build up and then … add an epilogue and call it a night when I just want to see more. More of the characters, of the interaction, all of it. Maybe that’s what makes it good, though, because you can get invested in the story pretty quickly.
Camille: Yes. And the big feud isn’t actually as big as you think, so it can reasonably be resolved in the 240 pages of this novel.
Elizabeth: I’m not even sure you can call it a feud, as quickly as it got wrapped up.
Camille: Misunderstanding then…that leads to generational misconceptions?
Elizabeth: That works for me.
Who’s your favorite character in this novel?
Camille: I almost hate to say it, but I think it’s Benny.
Camille: The blonde cousin!
Elizabeth: Why for?
Camille: He just rolls with everything and tries to help. He had joy for his lover. He wasn’t going to hate on anyone.
Elizabeth: I can see that. To me he felt more like a comedic foil, there to get the story started and — like Puck — bring the chaos.
Camille: Yup! How about you? Any fave or least fave characters?
Elizabeth: For me, I liked — and wanted more of — Romeo’s parents. They were obviously caring, hard working, and non-judgemental. They had no issue with taking in Benny, they loved their son, accepted the fact that he had a boyfriend, and then made the first steps to reconnect with their old friends, who were the parents of their son’s boyfriend.
No real least favorite, since no one else really …did anything.
Camille: There is that!
Elizabeth: Samuel and Greg … were there? That’s really my one and only complaint: The story feels abbreviated and relies a bit much on the cute part of the meet/cute without taking the time to develop anything beyond boy meets boy, falls in love with boy. But I’m aware the medium — the graphic novel itself — can only be so long and involve so much drama.
Camille: Yes. I kind of think of Samuel and Benny as a combo, so Sam felt more present to me. Greg…yeah. He was there. In a kilt, which I loved…but that was about all I remember him for. I agree about the “feels short” part. That said, it does take an enormous effort to put together 240 pages of beautiful art.
Elizabeth: Oh yes, the work they put into this is amazing.
I read and enjoyed this, I do recommend it, but I don’t think I’d go back to re-read it, you know?
Camille: Haha! I’d go back for the sexy bits!
Elizabeth: And, again, I think the art and the graphic parts of the graphic novel itself are just 5 stars.
Camille: Yeah, it’s a one-and-done story. I think I am okay with that, since at least I know I won’t be left hanging with any unresolved story lines.
Elizabeth: If there were book babies, I’d kidnap them immediately.
Camille: A whole series of Shakespeare M/M graphic novels? Okay!
I think, apart from the brevity of the actual plot, my one concern is how…buff everyone is.
Elizabeth: Okay, yes, that’s something I wasn’t going to bring up overly much. The face designs were nicely unique, but the body and body poses were all kind of same-y. But, you know, considering the audience — and the subject matter — I can see why they did it and I’m not objecting.
Camille: Agreed. I thought there was a sort of Aeon Flux-meets-anime quality to body shapes/hair-eye combos.
Elizabeth: And the heavy black around the eyes didn’t always work for me. It made them either look heavily made up, or cartoonish. But a lot of these points can just be personal preference; some people may like a lot of guyliner. 😛
Camille: I can see that, but with the bold colors, I think it makes “sense.” And again, these “cartoonish” qualities I think dove-tail with the fact that the story isn’t packing a lot of emotional baggage.
Elizabeth: And sometimes that’s what you want. Eye candy and fluff and an HEA. (Though I loathe epilogue HEAs with a passion.)
Camille: Do you mean stories where it feels like the ACTUAL ending falls in the epilogue?
Elizabeth: Yeah, exactly that. One of those pet peeves that just make me sniff haughtily and push books aside. Still, I can randomly stop on any page and see lovely art, movement, and lighting … so really, even with the occasional nitpick, it’s still a gorgeous book.
Camille: Ah. I didn’t feel like Dumas and Kurkoski went quite that far…but others may disagree.
Elizabeth: They set up the ending nicely — the parents getting back together, the kids getting together — so no, I have no complaints about that as the ending. The epilogues here feel more like … how to put this, like they’re trying to tidy up all the loose ends into a nice little bow. I don’t, personally, think they needed to. (Also, I think those could have made cute little side stories or additional comics for the series.)
Camille: Yeah. The epilogue wasn’t really necessary, I think. But it was a nice way to close out those threads without having to do more than a single panel, so in terms of workload for the artist, probably the best choice if they were determined to have an epilogue. Overall, I would agree with a 4 for the story. I’d go a 4.5 for the art, though.
Elizabeth: I’d do 4 for the story, 5 for the art, and come down on a 4.5 overall.
Camille: I can go with that.
Elizabeth: But I’m pickier with stories. When I think back on it, it’s moments I remember more than the story; like Romeo’s mother’s matter of fact “Yes, he has medication, yes he has some issues” with no explanation or excuse or pity. Just … it’s a fact of life. Or, again, how all the sex scenes involve laughter and smiles. Which is why it’s a 4. I’ll always support stories with mental health care moments.
Camille: Oh. I wasn’t going to mention the med thing, but I was kind of put off that Julien goes to Romeo’s mother/cousin for dirt BEFORE mentioning a single thing to Romeo himself, despite the fact they spent like 24 hours together non-stop.
Elizabeth: Yeah, and the going through his medicine cabinet. I mean, maybe he asked, or Romeo invited him to, but it all happened off screen so we’ll never know.
Camille: I didn’t even pick up on that…but yeah, Julien was pretty nosey about being in Romeo’s home.
Elizabeth: Well, they were in love and getting ready to move in together (lol) so .. yeah.
Camille: Instalove is still love!
Camille: At least in Romancelandia.
Elizabeth: Oh, one other part that I really liked … Julien’s clothing choices were never an issue. So he wore a dress, or makeup, or whatnot. He wanted to look pretty, and … he was.
Camille: And he phrased it just like that. It was subtly clear that Julien seems to identify as a man and uses male pronouns, but wants to look PRETTY. He (gently, I guess?) corrects Romeo about dressing “feminine,” which was pretty nice, I thought. I am just so used to having/using labels when I review, that it’s hard to NOT think of them even when the characters are clearly falling somewhere in-between like Julien. Between the two, I thought Julien had the much better wardrobe.
Elizabeth: Ha, yes. I try to avoid labels. I shouldn’t, but I don’t like telling people what I think a character is when they might have a different reaction to it, or like I’m setting them up for a character when they don’t read it that way. But I get in my own head a crap ton about that sort of thing.
Camille: Okay, so final thoughts!
Elizabeth: Final thoughts: Cute, fun and pretty. A nice, sweet bit of beautifully drawn fluff. Recommend for the romance.
Camille: I really enjoy graphic novels. I thought Romeo X Julien paired beautifully vibrant art with a fun take on a well-known Shakespeare tragedy and turning it into fluff. Readers who enjoy low-drama, high-spice stories will definitely enjoy this. And the creators include some “breaks” between scenes to offer more depth to the supporting cast. I would recommend this for the stunning visuals and anyone needing an afternoon of sweet and spicy romance!
Elizabeth: I think my final thought is: “What she said!” Seriously, though, this is beautiful. And sweet. And when you want or need something warm and fuzzy to wrap yourself up in, this is a perfect choice for that. And if you’re a fan of Shakespeare, you’ll enjoy the homages, the easter eggs, and the way the authors use the story of Romeo and Juliet as a guide.