Newsarama | Michael C Lorah | April 21, 2008
PAUL GOES FISHING reviewed by Newsarama
Autobiographical material is a tough genre to work in. Too many limit themselves to laundry lists of events and people without adding that sense of context and greater humanity that enables it to connect to an audience. There are, however, a few exceptional creators who can take the telling of their lives to a truly transcendent level of insight, writers and artists who’ve honed their craft to such a razor-sharp edge that waiting in line at the grocery store becomes an epic struggle (Harvey Pekar). Some manage to uncover themes that make their life bigger than human (Alison Bechdel).
Michel Rabagliati’s Paul Goes Fishing is, to my surprise and enjoyment, another case of a cartoonist being able to deliver a compelling story about nothing more than himself, in this case by focusing on family ties. Rabagliati’s thinly veiled alter-ego Paul and his wife Lucie join Lucie’s brother and his family for their annual lake vacation. Paul, not an outdoorsman, offers some typical complaints about fishing and hunting, though Rabagliati allows brother-in-law Clemente equal opportunity to present the opposing side of the argument. That fairness and recognition others’ motivations carries through to nearly all aspects of the story.
Rabagliati offers several powerfully emotional scenes, including one of young Paul and his own father’s lake vacation, that shape and define Paul’s world view, but the real heart of the story dwells in the twists and turns of Paul and Lucie’s attempts to have a child of their own. It’s an amazing accomplishment that Rabagliati can move so confidently between the light-hearted banter of a family enjoying their vacation to the heart-wrenching grief of Lucie’s miscarriage.
Artistically, the look owes much to Tintin. It’s a good approach for the book, presenting all the characters as a sort of universal man, while Rabagliati is still able to convincingly delineate their complex and varied emotional states onto the simple canvas of his characters’ faces.
Paul might not literally Michel Rabagliati, and there is a veneer of fiction between the cartoonist and the character, but Paul Goes Fishing is a very smartly written, well drawn glimpse into the everyday life of an ordinary man. It’s a humane story, and I won’t hesitate to read more of Rabagliati’s work whenever he offers more insights into the familial connections of our lives.