PAUL GOES FISHING reviewed by ComicMix

“Review: 'Paul Goes Fishing' by Michel Rabagliati” / ComicMix / Andrew Wheeler / April 14, 2008

His fourth semi-autobiographical graphic novel

Paul Goes Fishing is the fourth in a series of semi-autobiographical graphic novels by an illustrator-turned-cartoonist from Montreal named Michel, about an illustrator-turned-cartoonist from Montreal named Paul.

Nosy Parkers, such as myself, will immediately start wondering just how “semi” this autobiography is. Paul and Michel are about the same age, in the same line of work, from the same city, and have the same family details (a wife and one daughter). On the other hand, these semi-autobiographical cartoonists are sneaky – and someone like Ragabliati could also easily have just done a pure autobio comic (there’s no shortage of those). So I’ll refrain from assuming that anything about “Paul” is also true of Rabagliati.

Like the other “Paul” books, Goes Fishing wanders through Paul’s past, with some scenes set when Paul was young (mostly when he’s fifteen and so frustrated with his life that he tries to run away) and some when he’s an adult (mostly in the mid-90s). There’s some narration, in the voice of a contemporary Paul, to organize it all, and explain when each scene is taking place, but the structure is quite fluid, with scenes flowing according to memory or other connections than along purely chronological lines.

The main plot, if I can characterize anything in a loose, meandering book that way, is about Paul’s relationship with his wife Lucie’s family, and, even more vaguely, about family in general. In 1991, Paul and Lucie go off for a vacation at a lakeside cabin far to the north with Lucie’s sister Monique, her husband Clement, and their two kids. Lucie has just become pregnant for the first time, and both of them are very happy – until something unexpected happens.

Along the way, Paul drops back to tell the story of how he sort-of ran away from home when he was fifteen, and what led him to do that. (A lot of Paul Goes Fishing is semi-covertly about children – good and bad kids, being a kid and being a parent to kids – but it’s usually fairly quiet and backgrounded.)

So the story moves forward elliptically – going backwards and sideways at the same time, but always returning to Paul and Lucie and their problems in the mid-90s. I’m glad to be able to say that their troubles all come out right in the end; Paul Goes Fishing has a happy ending, as I’d always hope a book based on its creator’s life would.

Rabagliati’s art is still loopy and loose, particularly cartoony on faces, but his people always have correct anatomy and proportions, and the backgrounds are carefully observed and finely detailed. Paul Goes Fishing might not seem to be going anywhere very quickly – like a day spent out on a lake, “drowning worms” as my father-in-law puts it – but it does get somewhere special by the time it’s done.

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