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PG Tips No. 26:

Paul Gravett's Recommended Reading

In a regular series of PG Tips articles, Paul Gravett reviews books of and about comics from his recommended reading list.


Lou! Vol 1-3
by Julien Neel
Usharp Comics/Highland Books
In Diary Dates, we meet Lou, a blonde, sassy, 12-year-old and only daughter to a mad, husband-less Mum who is struggling to write her first space opera masterpiece. Both mother and daughter have their romantic crushes and disappointments unfolding through the three French hardbacks so far in English. Lou uses all sorts of tricks to get closer to her nose-picking boyfriend Tristan without being too obvious and to get her Mum hooked up with the hunk next door. In Summertime Blues, a holiday from hell in the country cottage of her sprout-loving, varicose-veined Grandma averts disaster when Lou hooks up with local lad Paul who composes Hawaiian songs, while Mum gets sweet revenge on her tormentor from school days, now grown up into Grandma’s swaggering, successful doctor. In Down in the Dump, Neel sensitively handles the onset at age 13 of adolescence, "boobies" and the "great big emptiness" Lou feels inside. It’s rare in all-ages children’s comics to find a teenager’s first depression portrayed so touchingly. Even the endpapers are fun and vital to the story here, disclosing pages from Lou’s own journal. We see that after much agonising, she manages to write back to Paul, ending her letter, reproduced here: "I began to sing. Sing your song. Your song about the islands. And everything suddenly made sense when the rain began to fall." It really helps that the translation is done so sparkily, by the ideal of a mother-and-daughter team, Ros and Chloe Schwartz. Neel’s fluid drawings in candy-coated or subtler hues devoid of black outlines closely resemble animation cels, so it’s no surprise that this hit bande dessinée is now animated for TV and showing on The Disney Channel. This series is as good to read as it is to look at. A total charmer for the 12-, going on 13-year-old in everyone.


George Sprott 1894-1975
by Seth
Drawn & Quarterly
What’s the colour of nostalgia? Perhaps it’s sepia, which tinges many of the flashback panels in Seth’s latest "picture novella". In the opening pages, one spread presents George Sprott’s name in monumental capital letters atop two imposing buildings; another spread shows an isolated iceberg. Both images represent the subject of Seth’s fictional local celebrity, an Arctic adventurer and later host of "Northern Hi-Lights" from Canada’s Golden Age of Television. Sprott’s public persona is merely the once visible tip, while beneath lurk unfathomed layers of secrets. As his former TV crony and Friday night horror host "Sir Grisly Gruesome" remarks, "Sometimes you’ll be surprised if you take a closer look at a fellow." We gradually piece together Sprott’s life-story from dense single-page patchworks - contradictory interviews, photos and ephemera, brief histories of local landmarks, Sprott’s own curt musings on life, and his final days and hours counting down to his fatal heart attack, related by a far-from-reliable narrator. Seth fleshes out these twenty-three strips, previously serialised in the New York Times Magazine, with new spread illustrations, three-page un-narrated vignettes from the past, cardboard models of lost buildings, and a poignant cumulative dream sequence. This is Seth at his most melancholic yet playful, weaving a small masterpiece of "Canadiana" that meditates on how little we can know about anyone else, and how much we can regret or forget.


My Mommy Is In America & She Met Buffalo Bill
by Émile Bravo & Jean Regnaud
Fanfare/Ponent Mon
Bravo for Bravo! His supple, smudgy charcoal lines perfectly visualise Jean Regnaud’s moving, semi-autobiographical text about the gaping vacuum left in a family by a long-missing mother. It’s all told from the perspective of the elder of her two sons, five-year-old Jean, who strives to make sense of her absence, all the secrecy and stifled tears. He can’t remember his Mommy anymore and, apparently with no photos, his only image of her is a painting of her as a girl above his grandparents’ mantelpiece. But everything changes when his older playmate next door, Michele, starts receiving postcards from his mother from abroad, addressed solely to him. As Jean has barely begun learning his alphabet, Michele reads out these short messages from around the world. Bravo and Regnaud evoke the boy’s innocent yearning with gentle comedy and without cloying sentimentality. This book won them an Essentials Award at the 2008 Angoulême Comics Festival, and you can meet Bravo at the International Bande Dessinée Society‘s Conference in London on June 19 to 20, 2009.


The Big Skinny: How I Changed My Fattitude
by Carol Lay
Villard Books
"How did you lose all that weight?", asks an full-figured party hostess. California cartoonist Carol Lay draws the solutions her admirer wanted her to say: "Liposuction / pills / strictly water melon / bypass surgery / nothing but meat and butter / specialized tapeworms" and more. But Lay’s shockingly simple answer is, "I count calories and exercise every day." Part self-help slimming guide, part reformed foodaholic’s memoir, her 196 colour pages are more proof of the flexibility and efficacy of comics to convey both intimate autobiography and essential information. "Skinny", of course, means not only thin but the naked truth or bare facts. It was seeing her pudginess in a photo that flipped Lay’s switch aged 50 and spurred her into successfully losing the weight and "fattitude" she’d been carrying since her teens. Lay shows and tells all about her eating problems, confessing after one large Christmas dinner to scoffing a tray of what she thought were chocolate sprinkles but were really dead ants sprayed with Raid! No didact or dictator, Lay comes across as practical, sympathetic and above all encouraging.

Posted: May 4, 2009

These reviews first appeared in Comics International, the UK’s leading magazine about comics, graphic novels and manga.

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Carol Lay
Emile Bravo
Jean Regnaud
Julien Neel
PG Tips
Seth

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Featured Books




Lou! Vol 1-3
by Julien Neel


George Sprott 1894-1975
by Seth


My Mommy Is In America & She Met Buffalo Bill
by Émile Bravo & Jean Regnaud


The Big Skinny: How I Changed My Fattitude
by Carol Lay