In the early 1980s, Sylvie Rancourt worked as a nude dancer in Montreal and, in a move that would make her a sensation in the underground and autobiographical comics scene, began making mini-comic memoirs about her experience. She started by selling hand-stapled copies of Melody in the club where she danced and before long had more professional editions for sale on Quebec newsstands.
With its explicit subject matter drawn in Rancourt’s “naive” style, Melody found itself in a weird place between erotica and literature and was considered unmarketable to American audiences for years. Now, esteemed Montreal publisher Drawn & Quarterly has collected all of Rancourt’s comics together into one volume, translated into English for the first time. There is even an excellent introduction by famed cartoonist Chris Ware who astutely explains how deceptively good Rancourt’s childlike cartooning actually is. The intro also notes that comic historians have called Melody “the first autobiographical Canadian comic,” and in terms of the chronology of modern female cartoonists, Rancourt is a pioneer in that respect as well.
Each chapter begins with the caption “This isn’t the beginning and it’s not the end, but somewhere in the middle,” which sets the stage for Rancourt’s cartoon verité approach to storytelling. She depicts Melody’s job, her customers, and her frustratingly dysfunctional relationship with her drug-dealing boyfriend in a matter-of-fact way that never sensationalizes or editorializes but instead attempts to convey life with a simple, plain honesty.