Further Illuminations: More comics for your Summer Reading pleasure

The Austin Chronicle    |    Wayne Alan Brenner    |    June 9, 2006

by Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian
Drawn and Quarterly, 144 pp., $19.95

by Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian
Drawn and Quarterly, 136 pp., $16.95

When Americans talk about European comic books, they'll sometimes refer to them – for reasons of precision or of desire to be perceived as hipper than thou – as bande dessinée. These Yanks may also suggest that modern European comics are better in general than modern American comics, and that this is likely due to the Euros not having been historically yoked with the Spandex-clad superhero genre. I'd name names sooner than debate these points, and I won't debate these points at all. Especially not after having read Dupuy and Berberian's Get A Life from Drawn & Quarterly.

Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian have been collaborating for 20 years, together creating the long-running, award-winning series about the life of Monsieur Jean, a "laconic, single Parisian male struggling through the usual calamaties of life: bachelorhood in his 20s and early 30s and the impending responsibilities of marriage, kids, and deadlines for his publisher." Mssr. Jean is just another one of the guys, in other words, albeit one who's a semi-successful author and bargain-basement Casanova in the City of Lights, and his misdaventures are no more outlandish than the sort of quirky yet quotidian shit you, dear reader, are liable to find yourself knee-deep in. It's that everymannishness, in conjunction with a superb rendering in full-color, cartoony (okay, then) bande dessinée vernacular, that makes these stories so appealing. Get A Life is a collection of more than a dozen early short narratives – including "Love and the Concierge," "Ice Cubes in Formaldehyde," and "Cathy (Norwegian Wood)" – that will provide an excellent introduction to this likable character.

And, in case you're wondering what it's like to collaborate on Monsieur Jean – or on anything – for 20 years, D&Q has also released Maybe Later, a graphic exploration, with surreal digressions and moments of talk-show-personal confession, of what the duo has endured, together and alone, while working on the series. Midlife crises, publishing dilemmas, the apocalypse of relational break-ups, and What It's Like to Be a Professional Cartoonist: These are pictured in the creators' familiar line drawings, in sharp black and white, in a humor-laced parallax view of the creative process and how it affects and is affected by life's relentless vicissitudes.

by Ron Rege Jr.
Drawn and Quarterly, 24 pp., $7.95 (paper)

Somewhere near the indie-comic crossroads of cuteness and sincerity – where, it is rumored, you'd have to bury the heart of James Kochalka in order to properly kill him – you'll find the ouevre of Ron Rege Jr. The more scholarly and clever will call the neighborhood "Cute Brut," and will champion the young Rege for his intensely personal and innovative iconography and the ingenuous thoughts and feelings he chooses to capture in pictures and quirkily calligraphic text. These clever scholars may well be on to something, but you don't need an even metaphorical sheepskin to appreciate what the man does with pen and ink and, especially on the cover of this latest volume from Drawn and Quarterly, a bright palette of colors.

Rege has released an annual collection of his work under the series title Yeast Hoist since 1995; unlike the first several issues – self-published minicomics, for the most part – this latest one, number 13, is a slick-covered and perfectbound volume of cartoon illuminations, exploring the artist's usual preoccupations: relationships, rock & roll, and the lowercase rapture of earthly existence. This one is called, after one of the interior stores, The Awake Field. This one, too, will be a joy for emo kids everywhere. Or, yes, for those who appreciate personal and innovative iconography.

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