Emma and Violette Vol 1: One Dream for Three

Jérôme Hamon (script), Lena Sayaphoum (art)
Europe Comics, Izneo.com
Released January 17, 2018

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We all have dreams. Some of those dreams are easily within our grasp, some may take a lifetime to achieve, and others yet may be out of our reach entirely. For many of us, the truism that anything is possible with enough hard work and dedication is one we grew up with. But what happens when you realize that the dream you’ve dedicated your life to may never come true? That question is at the heart of One Dream for Three, the first volume of the ever-charming comic Emma and Violette.

First available in French under the name Emma et Capucine, this comic follows the titular Emma and Violette, sisters who have spent their lives dreaming of becoming prima ballerinas together. Under the tutelage of their perhaps too supportive mother, the young sisters audition for the most prestigious dance school in Paris. But when Violette is accepted and Emma is not, the girls are faced with the realization that their dreams may not work out the way they had always hoped.

In a world filled with stories about people who achieve unlikely dreams against all the odds, it is oddly satisfying to read about someone grappling with failure. After all, most of us will never be prima ballerinas, or walk on the moon, or write a YA fantasy series even bigger than Harry Potter and get married to Christopher Paolini (you can guess which was the childhood dream of this reviewer). Learning to find value and opportunity in failure is such an important lesson that is all too often ignored.

Emma and Violette Vol 1 pg 16

Emma has some big decisions to make following this revelation.

Central themes aside, Emma and Violette is simply also a charming and beautiful read. It is a story focused heavily on its characters, on their relationships and ambitions and desires, making for a very grounded sense of realism. Jérôme Hamon clearly knows his characters intimately, so that every decision they make, every line they speak, feels true and earned. Lena Sayaphoum’s artwork is simply gorgeous, possessing a lightness and flow that adds so much to the story’s tone. I know little about ballet, so I cannot speak to the accuracy of the artwork, but at least to an untrained eye, Sayaphoum’s dance scenes do seem to capture the beauty and grace of a talented ballerina.

But while dance scenes possess a masterful sense of pacing and flow, the rest of the book is a bit lacking in that regard. The artwork is consistently beautiful, and Hamon’s dialogue always feels realistic and character driven, but the two do not always add up. In many panels, the dialogue does not seem to match the art, as though the words were meant to be spoken shortly before or after the action depicted.

Emma at Violette Vol 1 pg 6

Lines spoken by Emma’s mom and dad seem ill-timed and tonally mismatched when compared to the sense of urgency displayed by the artwork.

The somewhat disorienting effect of this panel disagreement is amplified by a disjointed flow from one scene into the next. While the pacing within each scene is masterful, the scene transitions are confusing and not always obvious. The reader is left unsure of how much time is passing, or where each scene is taking place. It took me four reads before I could tell if a certain scene was taking place at Emma and Violette’s home or their school.

The seeming lack of focus on the overall flow of the plot creates a lot of questions. How old is Emma? What birthday is she celebrating? Her dad seemingly works at the theatre, but what specifically does he do there? What’s the name of the mean girl who seems to delight in one-upping Emma? Is this her briefly mentioned childhood friend Estelle? If so, what happened to their friendship? If not, where is Estelle?

Emma and Violette Vol 1 pg 12

Is this Estelle? Do we ever find out why she wants to trick Emma into over eating candy?

Emma and Violette is still a deeply enjoyable read. The artwork and the characters are incredibly charming, and the story overall is a great read. But these simple questions of logistics are not the sort you want to be left with as a reader. It is much more interesting to finish a book and be left with lingering thoughts about your own lifelong goals and what lies beyond them. Thankfully, One Dream for Three still gives you plenty of space to think about what happens after dreams aren’t realized. I’ve made peace with the fact that I will likely never write anything as critically acclaimed as Harry Potter. That is a dream involving too much luck to count on. Instead, I find value and joy in the writing goals I have accomplished, and in the act of writing itself, which is within my control. And as for marrying Christopher Paolini? Well, some dreams we adapt. Some we outgrow. And some we turn out too gay to care about anymore.

Emma et Capucine Vol. 2 has been out in French since September, and I’m hopeful that the English version will follow in the months to come. I’m excited to see where Emma’s dreams take her next, and how Violette and their mother adapt to whatever new path Emma takes. For all it’s rough patches, this is a comic I plan to keep reading.