Book Review: Listen, Beautiful Márcia by Marcello Quintanilha

Brazilian favelas typically evoke images of poverty, drugs, and desperation, as most notably explored in the film City of God. Marcelo Quintanilha’s new graphic novel takes a different tack, following the life of a virtuous and hard-working nurse who isn’t defined by her sketchy home environment. She lives with her boyfriend, Aluisio, and her adult daughter, Jacqueline, eking out a tough but stable existence at the lower end of middle class.

The plot centers on Márcia’s strained relationship with her free-loading daughter, a rebellious youth running with a tough crowd doomed to bring her down without Márcia’s constant attention. Their rift eventually grows to impact Aluisio as well, threatening the very fabric of their loving but tenuous family unit. 

It’s painful to watch the deadbeat Jacqueline belittling and verbally abusing the long-suffering Márcia, and yet Quintanilha has crafted such fully-realized characters that it’s also upsetting to worry about Jacqueline’s possible comeuppance when she gets in over her head with the neighborhood baddies. In the midst of the family drama, Quintanilha takes pains to show the loving and supportive relationship between Márcia and Aluisio, her professionalism with co-workers and patients, and her positive attitude about her place in life, portraying the beauty and harmony to be found in the midst of an environment not typically known for a happy ending. 

Quintanilha’s linework is loose and free-flowing, rendered with immediacy that serves the somewhat chaotic neighborhood settings. This is not the precision of character model sheets, carefully diagrammed depth of field, or intricate background architecture, but instead the work of an artist fully focused on conveying the tumultuous story of his characters. His passion comes through in the emotional expressions of his characters, with his lens primarily trained on their interactions rather than detailing their surroundings.

The most striking aspect of Quintanilha’s imagery is his unique color palette, especially character colors. This is not the vibrant, rainbow-hued spectrum of Carnival, but instead subdued tones seemingly selected more for artistic effect than adherence to natural order. Dark-skinned Brazilians appear to be identified by a lavender shade, while light-skinned characters are aqua. The sky is green, hair is dark purple, and clothes are never quite the colors one would expect. It’s as if Quintanilha ran his art through a filter set to confound expectations, with the results being instantly memorable and remarkable.

His coloring process is also distinctive, utilizing media that appears to be acrylic paints but possibly digitally painted to mimic acrylic, an approach I can’t recall ever seeing before in a graphic novel. Multiple layers of brush strokes are clearly visible on every page, with no autofill in sight. Panels have no borders, so his paints are free to form haphazard boundaries, adding to the earthy allure of the favela community. I’d love to see a process video or at least a description to understand his intricate and time-intensive craft. 

Fantagraphics presents the 2022 Angoulême Best Graphic Novel award-winning story in an oversized hardcover format that allows readers to savor Quintanilha’s astounding world. This is his first work translated into English, hopefully leading to more of his back catalog reaching our shores in the years to come.

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Steve Geise

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