The Jellyfish by Boum - featured Reviews 

“The Jellyfish”

By | March 19th, 2024
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

The first full sentence of “The Jellyfish” goes like this: “You do in fact seem to have…a jellyfish in your left eye.” It is innocuous, but portentous. A line full of meaning and absurd all the same. It belies the depths the comic will plumb and highlights the journey along the way. You won’t read that sentence the same way at the end, I assure you.

Minor spoilers, mostly thematic, ahead.

Cover by Boum

Written, Illustrated and Lettered by Boum
Translated by Robin Lang and Helge Dascher

Odette is a twenty-something year old with their own place, a steady job at a local bookstore, an adorable pet rabbit, and a budding crush on one of their customers. But Odette is haunted by something only they can see: a jellyfish that’s floating in their eye, blocking their vision. It’s a seemingly minor annoyance…until the jellyfish starts multiplying.

Showcasing stunning and inventive artwork by Boum (Boumeries), The Jellyfish is a tour-de-force of graphic storytelling, a powerful, occasionally terrifying story of facing the thing that we fear the most and finding a light to guide us through the darkness.

The story of “The Jellyfish” occurs across one year in Montreal, starting in the winter and progressing, season by season, until we return, changed, to where we began. Odette, a young bookstore worker who dropped out of university, has a Jellyfish in their eye, the magical realist touch which gives the comic its name. It is mildly annoying, omnipresent, but mostly just floats there at the periphery, swooping and swimming around the page. We all have things like the Jellyfish in our lives, don’t we?

The Jellyfish serves a number of purposes in the text. It is, on its face, a medical condition. This is how Odette and the Optometrist and Naina and Leo treat it. Through this lens, Boum is able to imbue the text with representations of the medical establishment’s faultlines and failures – of who gets seen, of who is taken seriously, of who is rendered invisible. This is the “true” nature within the comic.

On another level, the Jellyfish is reflective of, and in some ways representative of, Odette’s mental state. It disappears from view when they are completely consumed by love, unable to dwell and focused entirely on, say, Naina. That is until the beauty of the impromptu picnic is shattered by a phone call and it pops back in. Larger, yes? Growing in response to their fear and worry. In a later scene, it is even the impetus for an amplification of their depression, or perhaps another representation of how it works, sneaking up on us and shattering moments like glass on concrete, its presence eventually encouraging them to be cruel, callous, to drive others away, retreating into the swarm, unable to see beyond the growing darkness.

Early in the comic, Odette uses the Jellyfish to externalize their problems, to ascribe moods and choices to it – an active antagonist – yet the Jellyfish is no more active than the snow. This doesn’t make its effects any less real or impactful. A snow storm may not wish you harm but it can kill all the same, after all.

The Jellyfish is a near constant throughout the comic. It is not, however, what the comic is about. It is a tool to explore our particular moment, of what it means to be a young adult (20s, 30s) now, of dealing with change and loss, of running up against the expectations of our parents – both the well-meaning and the abusive – of the ways we harm – ourselves, others – are harmed, again by ourselves, by others, and by the indifferent universe we reside within, and the ways we help and need help.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the story, or at least its ideas, because there’s a lot to dig into and it’s all so compelling. Odette is a fiercely independent person and I love how Boum makes that the crux of their conflicts as well as the source of some of their strengths and how the seasons reflect the different points of their journey but not quite in the usual ways.

Continued below

However, “The Jellyfish” is also its art, art which compels me to read, to scrutinize every panel for extra meaning upon each re-read, to bask in its effortless grace, and admire the absolute adorability of Napoleon the rabbit. In a story that gets as heavy as this, Napoleon is the perfect release valve. And, you know, another way to document Odette’s struggles. Mostly a cute, welcomed, lovely presence.

Look how adorable he is! Pg. 14

Boum’s illustrations are crisp and clear, awash in greytones, with environments that I could map, textured and full but not overly busy. Her characters sit on the more realistic end of cartoony – button eyes, simple mouths, rounded features with realistic anatomy and movement. This way they can have visually clearer emotions without dipping into the overly exaggerated.

Where I’m most impressed is in the framing. This is, for my money, “The Jellyfish’s” greatest strength. Because it’s not just that Boum keeps things clear even with the Jellyfish floating around, sitting on top of faces, books, lattes, it’s that she uses those elements to focus our attention on what is important, highlighting details that may have been overlooked otherwise, AND subtextually tell us about the emotions, thoughts, and themes of a scene. When the Jellyfish obscures a face, we know Odette is pushing them away, obscuring them from their life.

She also picks such wonderfully varied angles as we move through the book, as if we too are Jellyfish observing this year in a life, drifting up and down, left and right, over and under. It keeps the book moving and lively and shows off the talent of the artist without being flashy. It serves the story, allowing it to dig deeper into the reader to leave a mark that stays with you long after you put the book down.

For the curious, I came away from “The Jellyfish” sobbing. I am quick to cry, so that is not as big an accomplishment as it may seem. Still, I was unprepared for how quickly it came upon me and how multilayered it turned out to be. Waves of emotions passed through me and I, like, Odette, found myself changed for the better, with one more book to recommend.

“The Jellyfish” is out from Pow Pow Press on May 7th, 2024.


//TAGS | Original Graphic Novel

Elias Rosner

Elias is a lover of stories who, when he isn't writing reviews for Mulitversity, is hiding in the stacks of his library. Co-host of Make Mine Multiversity, a Marvel podcast, after winning the no-prize from the former hosts, co-editor of The Webcomics Weekly, and writer of the Worthy column, he can be found on Twitter (for mostly comics stuff) here and has finally updated his profile photo again.

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