Ballad for Sophie written by Filipe Melo and illustrated Juan Cavia

A young journalist prompts a reclusive piano superstar to open up, resulting in this stunning graphic sonata exploring a lifetime of rivalry, regret, and redemption.

I have to turn down many requests for reviews on Sandbox World. Be it both digital and hardcopy editions. Ballad for Sophie was going to be one of those books on my rejection pile. Boy was I wrong, I gave it a second chance and got emersed into the storytelling.

I knew nothing of writer Filipe Melo and illustrator Juan Cavia. As I keep reading, the book flowed in a cinematic tone. How silly of me, both of the creators have cinema backgrounds. As most of you know your friendly bookstores are littered with superhero graphic novels. So it is very hard for good graphic storytelling to get through the mainstream audiences. Top Shelf Productions (an imprint of IDW) publisher of Ballad for Sophiesums it as a music-themed graphic novel by Portuguese musician Filipe Melo and artist Juan Cavia that is packed with all of the drama of a rock ‘n’ roll biopic and with more twists than a night at the opera.

At first, the piano aspect of the graphic novel turned me from reading Ballad for Sophie. The poetic flow of the story is like a musical score of human emotion building up to its highest possible point. Ballad of Sophie is a melancholic melody of a painful journey of a youthful musician growing up in a confusing time during wartime WW2 in Europe till his death in the late 20th century.

The devil is in the details as the story develops from a simple interview of a dying old masestro to a complex unfolding of himself as he falls into a Faust-like trap in the music world of a musical prodigy. You will recognize many of the classic story trappings of making a deal with a sort of devil backdrop found in musical stories or movies. There is so much going on here from Nazis, flying pianos, hidden secrets, a goatlike devil provocateur and psychedelic induced musical trips that crash down to a beaten-down maestro trying to make sense of his turbulent life. The story builds into a crashing crescendo as the Ballad for Sophie drops off into a hopeful ending where through the pain, one of the main characters is awoken into the future she was destined for. Is she going to fall into the same trappings of our main hero?

Unlike other graphic novels, what would Ballad for Sophie be without an actual ballad? You can listen to the beautiful Ballad for Sophie theme song composed by Filipe Melo on Spotify HERE.

1933. In the small French village of Cressy-la-Valoise, a local piano contest brings together two brilliant young players: Julien Dubois, the privileged heir of a wealthy family, and François Samson, the janitor’s son. One wins, one loses, and both are changed forever.

1997. In a huge mansion stained with cigarette smoke and memories, a bitter old man is shaken by the unexpected visit of an interviewer. Somewhere between reality and fantasy, Julien composes, like in a musical score, a complex and moving story about the cost of success, rivalry, redemption, and flying pianos.

When all is said and done, did anyone ever truly win? And is there any music left to play?

Filipe Melo is a musician, film director and author. He developed a passion for piano and improvisation from an early age. He studied at Hot Clube de Portugal and later at Berklee College of Music. After many years as a pianist, he also became a composer and an orchestrator. He currently teaches music at ESML, a university in Lisbon. In cinema, he developed several cult projects: I’ll See You in My DreamsUm Mundo Catita and Sleepwalk, as well as commercials and music videos. His books are published in several countries. In the US, he wrote for the Eisner-winning anthology Dark Horse Presents. In 2019, he received a career award from the Amadora BD Festival.

Juan Cavia works as an art director and illustrator since 2004. He studied cinema and simultaneously developed skills in illustration and painting from an early age with his mentor, Argentinean artist Carlos Pedrazzini. At the age of 21, he began a career as an art director. Since then, he has made advertisements, TV, music videos, theatre and nine feature films, including The Secret in her Eyes by J. Campanella (Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Film).