The beauty of graphic novels is in the infinite ways in which text and illustration can blend together to create a breathtaking story. How the two artistic mediums intermingle — the colors, the action and the dialogue — will be what influences you to either continue with the story or abandon it.
Without question, author Kevin Panetta and illustrator Savanna Ganucheau are masters of what it takes to make a graphic novel intriguing to the eyes. Though both artists have their own works published, it’s safe to say that “Bloom,” their first collaboration, shines as a debut piece for the duo. The novel hit shelves this past January, and now sits alongside many of First Second’s other successful graphic novel publications.
“Bloom” centers on protagonist Ari Kyrkos, a recent high school graduate who feels obligated to remain at home and help his father’s bakery thrive, instead of following his big city dreams that include pursuing a musical career with his band.
But when Hector, a new boy in town, is given a job at the bakery, Ari hopes that he will be his replacement out of the baking gig he had hoped to leave far behind.
But, of course, life is not this easy and as the boys spend their summer baking, the aromas of bread and love being to intermingle.
The New York Times published an article titled “How Graphic Novels and Comics Can Move A Story,” in which Melina Delkic highlights the important relationship between image and text. “Comics can evoke meaning from small moments like pauses in conversation, nuances of facial expression and internal turmoil,” she writes.
In this way, the illustrations that you are greeted with when opening a graphic novel feel like a first impression, a first glance into what the work promises to deliver.
If Ganuchaeau’s art is the first impression of what “Bloom” promises to deliver, you will not be disappointed. Every page keeps you enthralled in a romantic, beautiful atmosphere that perfectly captures the nostalgia of youth and summer love.
The color scheme of “Bloom” consists of shades of blue. The sky, the ocean and everything in between is told in one color, which may seem to limit artistic expression, but instead pulls you deeper into the sentiments of the characters.
“We picked teal because it’s a calming color and we wanted the book to be very chill and relaxing,” Panetta says of the color scheme.
The tone of the illustrations does indeed soothe and calm you as you turn the pages, reminding you of the feeling of endless summers.
Ganucheau also does a fantastic job in interpreting the meaning of silent moments in which Panetta’s story needs to be visualized, and not read in parts of the dialogue. From still moments to montages of action, Ganucheau’s depiction of troubled Ari and joyous Hector give the characters their own lifeforce through hues of blue and adorable silent scenes in which gazes, baking and happiness are all the conversation you need.
The Refreshing Romance
Ari and Hector’s romantic relationship blossoms inside of the Kyrkos bakery, but Panetta does not only write a cute, summery romance without any depth to it.
Though this is a story containing two male characters falling in love, their relationship is not the overall central focus. Ari’s stubborn personality leads him to make mistakes that push those closest to him away, and it is from Hector’s gentler manner that he learns that not having everything figured in life out is okay.
This is a very refreshing take on an LGBTQ+ relationship, given that many fall into a tragic trope. Ari and Hector are two very normal young men with loving friends and they are more than the discovery of their sexuality, more than just being gay and young in a small town. They are more than just a Greek boy and black boy falling in love.
In an interview with The Beat, Panetta and Ganucheau discussed the emotions they were trying to channel when writing the character. “I wanted to write a story about rejecting cynicism and learning to be earnest and loving,” Panetta said.
“With queer stories, we’re making our way to an age where stories like ‘Bloom’ are becoming more common and that’s very exciting,” said Ganucheau. “Coming out stories are equally important but it’s nice to have variety.”
Moments That Leave You With Questions
Though Ari’s primary goal at the beginning of the story is to leave his home to follow his dreams of making it big in the music industry with his friends, this storyline falls a bit flat after Hector comes into the picture.
Of course, this is not a giant loss; Ari learns what is important in his life and that there are other things, such as his family, that need tending to. But it does feel as if Ari’s musical talents only serve to push one point plot forward at the beginning of the novel.
You, as the reader, expect to see him developing music on his own or perhaps detaching himself from a certain toxic friend — ahem, Cameron — to grow as a musician.
Still, this easily forgivable due to Ari’s charming character arc.
What You Take Away from “Bloom”
Ultimately, “Bloom” is a book about love, family and self-discovery with a little bit of mouthwatering baking.
One of the most important messages throughout Ari’s journey is the fact that, as Tolkien so beautifully put it, not all those who wander are lost.
Ari’s big-scale dreams are put on hold so that he can help his family’s bakery, but it also gives him time to reflect. Hector’s presence in his life is much-needed stability, and he cherishes the value of their relationship.
When things go wrong, Ari learns that putting things on hold is not always a negative prospect. “ … It’s okay not to know where you’re going, we all have to navigate things at our own pace,” said Ganucheau.
“You don’t know everything and you don’t have to know everything,” Panetta agreed. “Just take your time and learn.”
Sometimes, like bread, things take time to set and grow. It takes time to bloom.