“I can dream of the old days, life was beautiful then”
Memories from Limón feels like an autobiographical comic, as Edo Brenes, who wrote it, names his character’s fiancée after his own wife, thanks his family in the beginning for sharing their stories with him, calls the main character “Ramiro” but I’m unsure if anyone ever calls him by name in the book (“Ramiro” is the name he’s given on the recap blurb on the back of the book), and, you know, is Costa Rican, much like his main character. But it’s very possible it’s not autobiographical, and Brenes simply used things he’s familiar with to create something fictional. I’m just saying, if you dig autobiographical comics, this certainly feels like one even if it’s, you know, not. This is published, by the way, by Nobrow Press. Let’s take a look!
It’s honestly kind of difficult to write about Memories from Limón, as plot is not really Brenes’s point. A man flies from London to Costa Rica to interview members of his family about their lives. He has a vague idea of writing a book about his family, but it’s clear that Brenes simply wants to get to the mystery of his ancestors, as the relationship between two brothers during the late 1930s and 1940s is at the heart of the book. I don’t really want to get too much into that – it’s not a difficult mystery to figure out (I don’t think it’s meant to be), but it does add a bit of spice to the narrative. Other than that, it’s just Ramiro interviewing his relatives about the past, with occasional vignettes showing the “good old days.” It’s a bit difficult to keep track of everyone – it’s a big family – but not that hard (and Brenes does provide a family tree, in case you get really lost). Ramiro gathers information about the family in bits and pieces, which is a good way to do it, because then he has to fit them together, and it keeps us engaged in doing the same thing. “Oh, she’s talking about that same dude that other guy was talking about, but at a different point in his life” kind of stuff. Brenes does a nice job fitting everything together, so when the penny drops at the end, we’re not lost as to who’s doing what to and with whom. While the characters beyond Ramiro and a few others, the characters aren’t real people, just storytelling engines, so we don’t have to focus too much on them. But Brenes still makes them interesting for their brief moments in the spotlight.
How Brenes tells the story is interesting. As I noted, occasionally he simply steps into the past and shows us the characters interacting with each other. This is not the majority of the book, however. Most of it is Ramiro interviewing his relatives, and Brenes shows him with the older people, and while he’s doing that, he simply shows “photographs” that Ramiro happens to be looking at while he interviews them. The “photographs” are small panels, and Brenes places the word balloons of Ramiro and his relatives talking over them, and very often, the words have nothing to do with the “photographs,” which is a clever way to do it. Ramiro and his relatives talk about his and their past, but the “photographs” simply show nice little moments from the lives of the characters. They live in Limón, which is on the central Caribbean coast, and the “photographs” show them on the beach, in the town, at family gatherings, going to war (it’s unclear if it’s World War II, but the timing is right), and generally living their lives. It’s an interesting way to do it, because there just isn’t a lot of action in the book, and even the “mystery” isn’t that deep, so it doesn’t take up a lot of time. What Brenes does is just allow us to see the way Costa Ricans lived in the 1940s, and the abundance of “photographs” do a good job with that. The book is a bit languid, which is fine, as it’s much more about a lost time period than anything. Brenes has to hang a bit of a plot on the interviews, so he does, but it’s just pleasant to see how Ramiro’s ancestors lived.
Brenes has a nice ligne claire style, which works pretty well for a somewhat romantic, sentimentalized portrait of the past. Fair or not (mostly unfair), most northern European/north Americans have a vision of the tropics as ramshackle, and Brenes’s clean line gives us a world of charming houses and streets, populated by fascinating and glamorous people. The clean line does a good job striking a balance between the well-made structures and some of the run-down areas – they’re still there! – and makes the encroaching nature of the forests blend well with the civilization. His lines give things a bit of a weathered look, which works within the “tropical” nature of Costa Rica, and it gives a bit of definition to the older people in the book without making them decrepit. The coloring is nicely done, too – in the present, he uses more cool blues and soft reds, while in the past he uses bright greens and yellows, which is a nice contrast. Meanwhile, the “photographs” are more monochrome blue, which is also a nice choice as it sets them well apart from the “present” while Ramiro is interviewing his relatives. I assume most of the “photographs” in the book are at least modeled on many of Brenes’s own, and it’s well done how he manages to create a portrait of life in Limón during the 1940s through them.
Memories from Limón isn’t boring, certainly – Brenes does a nice job keeping it lively as he slowly unravels the mystery in his family tree – but there isn’t a lot of action. The very loose plot does keep it from being great, but it’s still a good comic, with a lot of interesting stuff in it. While most of the characters aren’t that deep, they’re all a bit quirky, which makes their reminiscences that much more interesting. The art is very nice, and it helps create a nice atmosphere for the book. I always like seeing the way life is in different cultures and different times, and so I appreciate this book even if I don’t love it. You can check it out at the link below!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆