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Melody: Story of a Nude Dancer by Sylvie Rancourt Review

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<i>Melody: Story of a Nude Dancer</i> by Sylvie Rancourt Review

Writer: Sylvie Rancourt (Translated by Helge Dascher)
Artist: Sylvie Rancourt
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Release Date: June 23, 2015

Written and published in the mid-to-late ‘80s while writer/artist Sylvie Rancourt was working as a stripper in Montreal, Melody stands as a not-even-veiled autobiography. Consisting of six issues in black-and-white, which Rancourt originally sold in the clubs where she worked, the graphic novel follows the adventures of an innocent, drawn in a naive style that reinforces its central character’s wide-eyed sweetness. In need of money, Melody’s dirtbag boyfriend, Nick, suggests she try out exotic dancing, and, despite a lack of experience, she takes to his idea quickly. Drugs, manipulation, stolen merchandise, orgies and arrests follow, but the story never loses its essential good-natured, upbeat attitude. This perpetual optimism potentially robs the narrative’s affect—especially with Rancourt’s childlike drawing style that barely accounts for subtleties of facial expression—but Candidean is perhaps a more accurate description. Melody is not a cautionary tale, despite its subject matter, but it’s not a celebration, either. It’s a documentary with an individual point of view, rather than an ax to grind.

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Rancourt’s illustrative approach doesn’t evolve much throughout her avatar’s journey, although her panels do include more detail by the end of the last issue. Characters are hardly distinguishable from one another by anything but hairstyle. Chris Ware’s introduction mentions one example of her repeated compositions (a panel that shows Melody in ¼ profile, getting into a bathtub), but there are many more, especially the way Rancourt draws Melody removing her shirt to get into her work duds. Arms crossed and raised over her head, shirt up to expose her breasts, long hair hanging behind and one eye peeking out through the triangle formed between her hands; it’s a tremendously weird image that runs through the issues like a leitmotif. Clearly, it was the first and most intuitive way Rancourt thought of portraying the physical motion, but the ever-present eye suggest the way that Melody observes her customers.

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Melody: Story of a Nude Dancer Art by Sylvie Rancourt

The background happenings in the clubs also deserve special attention. Customers come and go [pun intended], but like the girls, they represent a cross-section of humanity. They are racially diverse. Some are old, and some are young. They all have their preferences, and their dialogue is mundane without being terrible for being so. It’s a nonjudgmental, serene view of the world from the stage, and it speaks to Melody’s (and Rancourt’s) ability to live in the present. The same events happen again and again, but there’s a pleasure to the gentle repetition…up to a point. The fact that Rancourt drew the book as a memoir rather than a diary shows, and there are satisfying turns in the narrative at the end.

Weird and personal, Melody is utterly original and shows the efforts of a finely observant mind.

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Melody: Story of a Nude Dancer Art by Sylvie Rancourt

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Melody: Story of a Nude Dancer Art by Sylvie Rancourt

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Melody: Story of a Nude Dancer Art by Sylvie Rancourt

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