Georges Melies was a cinema pioneer, producing about 500 short films in the early years of the 20th century. His most well remembered film was La Voyage Dans la Lune, which had the unforgettable image of the cheese-coated man in the moon with a rocket ship stuck in his eye. Melies was also a magician and maker of mechanical devices. Sadly, little of Melies’ work remains. Much of his film stock was seized by the French military and melted down for boot heels in World War I, and his mechanical devices, donated to a museum, were left in a damp attic and eventually discarded.
In The Invention of Hugo Cabret, author Brian Selznick tells the story of Hugo Cabret, a 12 year old boy who, for reasons explained, is left to fend for himself inside the walls of Montparnasse train station. He has learned and inherited mechanical ability from his watch-maker father, and has, in a sense, inherited the job of station clock keeper from his drunken and now disappeared uncle. He has to steal food to survive. Through a tragic circumstance, Hugo discovers an automaton, a mechanical man seated at a desk, pen in hand.. The parts are rusty, bent, and broken, but Hugo works diligently to repair the automaton. Eventually he does so and thereby discovers an important secret.
This is not quite a comic or graphic novel. There are over a hundred full-page illustrations, but the story is told only in text, and the pictures do not have captions or dialogue. The sequences of pictures have a simple cinematic quality. A ‘scene’ will be depicted at closer and closer ‘zoom’ levels, ending with a close-up of a face, or of a shoe. The pictures themselves are dark and shadowy, using heavy lines and smudges to completely cover the drawing surface.
This is basically juvenile fiction, most suited to 10 to 15 year olds, I think. It was enjoyable enough as adult fiction, but lacked much depth. In all, a lightweight and interesting work, with an impressive number of drawings.