The Hartford Advocate on DUPUY & BERBERIAN

An embarrassment of riches

Hartford Advocate    |    Alan Bisbort    |    July 6, 2006

Get A Life
by Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian, $19.95 (Drawn & Quarterly)

Maybe Later
by Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian, $19.95 (Drawn & Quarterly)

The present state of the graphic novel/comic-book genre is reminiscent of the music scene of the late 1960s. Back then, anybody with long hair who could play an instrument was signed to a record label. Out of that improvisational chaos came some of the most timeless music of the era, much of it selling better in reissued formats today than work by contemporary artists. Of course, some of the worst, most self-indulgent crap was also released, but it was so far outweighed by the good that nobody even remembers it. Likewise, the graphic novel genre is exploding with new voices and visions, still stretching its muscles, still widening its tent to give anybody with a pencil and a unique spin a chance to create something worthwhile.

And, remarkably enough, the resultant creative explosion has produced a great deal of potentially timeless work but very little crap (with the exception of the entire manga subgenre). For example, just in the past few months, we've seen a gripping Holocaust story (Miriam Katin's memoir We Are On Our Own), dispatches from Iraq (War Fix), a modern Little Prince-like fable (Goodbye, Chunky Rice), as well as Attitude 3, the third collection of "new subversive online cartoonists."

Lost in the shuffle, though, are some works that may go begging for the audience they deserve.

...Heartwarming and hilarious, the continuing saga of Mr. Jean -- one of the most popular comic book series in France -- has been translated into English and handsomely packaged in two volumes by Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly. Dupuy and Berberian's long-running collaboration is unusual in that they both write and draw and the result is organic and seamless. Indeed, it's both an intellectual and visceral pleasure to read Get A Life and Maybe Later. Mr. Jean is a struggling 30-something writer who cut his teeth listening to Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, whose tales of love, loss and battles with his best friend's cat and his "beloved concierge" (a mean old crone with facial hair) are unpredictable, visually inventive and hilarious. Think Seinfeld episodes without the conniving edge. This is the sort of smart comic that has the chance to hook first-time adult readers. Try one of these. I guarantee you'll want more.

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