If it hasn’t been said already, let me be the first: We are living in the golden age of graphic novels, and Montreal is one of the form’s spiritual homes. Keeping up with the ongoing wave of new releases would be a full-time job, but here, at least, are three recent highlights, all by locally based artists.
The nameless diarist of Julie Delporte’s Everywhere Antennas (Drawn & Quarterly, 112 pp, $19.95) is a young woman shuttling between France and Quebec while battling a debilitating case of depression. Her malaise may be caused by a seemingly unavoidable fact of modern living: the 24/7 wireless radioactivity that surrounds us all.
Delporte’s preferred medium is coloured pencils. At the back of the book, she even provides a chart of all the colour shades she has employed (Warm Light Grey, Flesh, Prussian Blue, etc.) It turns out to be an inspired choice. Most of us last used coloured pencils in our early school years, and Delporte exploits that emotional connection to subversive ends, taking a palette we strongly associate with childhood and transposing it into a very grown-up world of alienation, numbness and despair. She also invites us into her creative process, letting the rough edges show in her compositions: images appear to have been ripped apart and scotch-taped together again, occasional lines of text have been crossed out but remain legible. The result is a rare immediacy; we feel we know this woman, and that we’re working through her life crisis in real time with he r. When at one point she laments “I can’t think of any solitary women — not in my life, and not in the movies, either,” part of you sympathizes with her isolation while another part of you wants to send her a copy of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
Most authors, whether they’ll admit it or not, have entertained the fantasy of seeing strangers reading their books in public places. Some may even have been lucky enough to see the fantasy come true. But what are you supposed to do when you see someone stealing your book? That’s the premise of Petty Theft by Pascal Girard (Drawn & Quarterly, 100 pp, $19.95), and in the case of Girard’s lovelorn eponymous autobiographical stand-in, the dilemma is all the more thorny for the fact that the kleptomaniac in question is very cute. Should he be outraged? Flattered? Some combination of the two? What he should do, technically, is report her immediately, but instead he embarks on an ill-advised sleuthing campaign, one that involves something that looks a lot like dating his subject. His questionable decisions may be partly due to his current circumstances: he has hit the cartoonist’s equivalent of writer’s block, and is considering a complete life change, thinking he’ll go back to school. Meanwhile he’s falling back on sheet-metal work, the only remunerative skill for which he’s qualified.
The wellspring for Girard’s variety of gentle urban comedy is probably Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, but it’s a tone that jumps media easily and has found an especially fertile ground in modern comics. Elements of Adrian Tomine’s San Francisco millennial tales can be found in Girard, though he employs a more childlike line than Tomine, and isn’t averse to applying the occasional touch of slapstick. For all the surface whimsy of his drawing, though, he’s remarkably rigorous in his compositions and specific in his settings. Newcomers looking for an approximate reference point might consider the celebrated French cartoonist Sempe, best known for Le Petit Nicolas. (Completely coincidentally, Girard’s first book is titled Nicolas; it is the true story of a young boy dealing with the death of his younger brother, and one of the most emotionally affecting graphic novels you’ll ever read.) For Montrealers, and more specifically Mile Enders, part of the fun of Petty Theft is in spotting the local landmarks. Pascal is crashing on the couch of a friend’s apartment above Wilensky’s; the store from which his inamorata likes to pilfer is, yes, Librairie Drawn & Quarterly on Bernard; laundromats, deps and the Y on Parc are represented faithfully. It might all sound like something that would shut out all non-resident readers, but as we see so often, the road to the universal runs directly through the local...