Michel Rabagliati Interviewed on Maclean's!

“Slice of life” / Maclean's Magazine / Derek Chezz / June 7, 2005

Comix and graphic novels. Two labels that serve as the alter egos for the literary works of a genre more often associated with men and women in tights running into burning buildings or firing beams of light from their eyes. In North America at least, superheroes have had a much more significant impact on comics than science fiction, western and romance themes, an influence amplified even more so these days as Hollywood pillages pop history to create the next blockbuster film.

But in Europe, this separate identity isn't required. On magazine racks on the other side of the pond, readers will find a variety of literary genres to read in comic book form. While Spider-man is translated into Italian, he hasn't webbed up the competition and shipped it off to Ryker's Island.

Enter Montrealer Michel Rabagliati. The 38-year-old commercial illustrator has just released his third title with Canadian publisher Drawn and Quarterly. Paul Moves Out continues the series begun with Paul in the Country which has been published in five languages. The new volume is a tightly scripted story about protagonist Paul's budding romance with soon-to-be girlfriend Lucie as they meet in art college and eventually move into an apartment together. The rich, emotionally moving narrative has more in common with slice-of-life films like Garden State than such comics-turned-megahit movies as X-Men. "I tried to do fiction with characters that I didn't know, detective stories and things like that, but it didn't fit me," Rabaligati says in a thick Quebecois accent. "If it wouldn't be about real life, I wouldn't do it. I would prefer continuing in commercial illustration."

The story -- a thinly veiled autobiography -- is told in two parts: first is a series of flashbacks that relate how the pair met; the second follows them through their first year of living together. The clean, bold lines of Rabagliati's art owes more to the European tradition, such as Spirou and Tintin, whom he lists as influences, than to North American comics artists. Refreshingly, the book lacks any of the angst or the slapstick and stand-up-style humour that often fills books of so-called real stories. "Some people have said this story isn't as dramatic as Paul has a Summer Job," says Rabaligati. I disagree. The universal themes in Paul Moves Out demonstrate how the form of comics can tell small, yet important, stories. Rabagliati explores the painful awkwardness of falling in love, and the joy of discovery that fills a relationship. It's a testament to his superb writing skills that I often caught myself remembering the first few years spent living with my wife before we married.

"I'm not interested in talking about my darker side," he says when prompted to explain his story choices. "That, like sex and violence, I'm leaving to others." But there's still plenty of material to delve into. For the fourth instalment, Rabaligati plans to explore the difficulties he and Carol, a proofreader, experienced trying to conceive a child. "I think this is interesting emotionally."


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