Solo Panel: The Innocents by Gipi

In “Solo Panel,” I am going to take a significant panel from a comic to examine and explore. The idea of “Solo Panel” was partly inspired by Brian Dillon’s column “Sentences” in Cabinet.

In the final panel of Gipi’s The Innocents we have the two main characters, Andrea and Uncle Gil, composed as mirror images. They have the same grins. their clothes and hairstyles are the same, and Andrea’s freckles reflect Gil’s stubble. These commonalities underscore the fact that these two have become conspirators by the end of the book. So the physical similarities create a visual signifier for the state of the characters. Yet while Andrea and Gil have the same haircut for the whole comic, some of these other connections are new.

This setting of the two of them in the car is one that dominates the book. Yet throughout most of the story, Andrea and Gil look in different directions. One talks and the other looks out the window, or the two look at eachother. But here in the end, they both look forward to a common destiny.

Also, when we first see Andrea in the car, he is wearing his seat belt. And his coat, while being very similar to Gil’s, is zipped closed. And so the open coat and lack of seat belt show not just that these two have found a new connection, but that Andrea is starting to adopt the appearance of his uncle.

So the title, The Innocents, could refer to Andrea and his loss of innocence. We know that the trip the two are on was supposed to be to an amusement park and we watch Andrea giggle, muse about clouds, and discuss candy. In other words, he is a conventional middle class kid. An innocent. Gil’s world of released convicts, smoking teens, and abusive cops is another planet compared with Andrea’s pampered upbringing.

Then there is Gil’s claim that his friends who landed in jail were innocent, to which Andrea quips: “are all your friends who went to prison innocent?” So the title also refers to these childhood buddies of Uncle Gil’s. They were just kids themselves, though teens hanging out on the streets.

The story Gil tells, while probably inappropriate for a child Andrea’s age and so contributing to Andrea’s loss of innocence, also shows the loss of innocence of Gil and his teenage friends, specifically Valerio. The two cops who show up, veterans of the anti-terrorist squads, decide that this gang of kids should be monitored and harassed. The harassment starts verbally, but soon escalates into physical violence. The height of the abuse is when Gil’s friend Valerio is taken into custody and held overnight. The image Gipi gives us is of one of the cops rolling up his sleeves and making a fist while the open face of Valerio looks around in confusion. While we don’t see it, we know what happened to Valerio at the hands of these cops. And we see the effects. After this event, Valerio starts getting into fights with other kids and eventually carries a knife. When the two cops pick him up again to have their fun, Valerio stabs one and ends up in prison. When we see Valerio as an adult at the end of the comic, his face bears little resemblance to the round, open face that he had as a teen. And so we get the tale of Valerio’s loss of innocence.

Yet it is obvious that this is also Gil’s loss of innocence. The main character in the story he tells is Valerio, but Gil was his friend and had to watch what happened to him. And Gil was a target of the cops’ harassment, as well. Also, the fact that he decides to meet Valerio when he is supposed to be spending time entertaining his nephew shows how marked Gil is by this event. So all the characters in this comic, to varying degrees, have lost innocence.

Yet this is also a story about reclaiming innocence. In the middle of the book, Gil buys Andrea a candybar, a “flashbang.” At first Gil calls it crap. Yet when he tries it, his eyes go wide and his face becomes more childlike. He gets to taste something that he has lost. And, for a moment, he gets to be a little kid enjoying a candybar. In the end flap of the book, there is a watercolor drawing of all three characters eating flashbangs. Valerio says “mmmm… that’s really delicious.” And so even Valerio gets to experience some childlike joy for a moment.

Gil’s narrative is one of trying to reclaim something that was lost. He had a good friend, Valerio, who changed and then was thrown into prison. Yet Gil meets him on the day of his release, trying to reconnect to a friendship that he lost years, or even decades, ago. It doesn’t go as he plans since Valerio is bent on revenge. And Gil seems to even lose Andrea, who disobeys Gil’s order to stay in the car and says “you’re just an uncle I see once in awhile.” Before the final panel, Gil seems to have lost everything, his childhood friend and the affection of his nephew.

But Andrea offers Gil some hope. He wants to see more of Uncle Gil’s friends. And when Gil says that they probably won’t be allowed to get together after what happened this time, Andrea proposes that they lie. It’s a childlike solution, but one that Gil seems to agree to or at least appreciate given his final grin. Also, the lie that Andrea comes up with, of Valerio being an architect and playing with his kids in a garden, is an innocent vision, an idyll of what Gil and Valerio had no opportunity to have. And so perhaps Gil’s smile is also him imagining his old friend as a successful and stable member of society. The story of the lie wipes away the grit of reality and offers something else to Gil.

So the final panel doesn’t show only Andrea’s transformation, but Gil’s as well. The mirrored grins contain multiple meanings. And so, in the end, the innocents are Andrea and Gil themselves, two flashbang-eating relatives sharing a beautiful lie.

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