Nicolas was given a limited release in 2008, and is now being reissued by Drawn & Quarterly in an updated hardback edition. Recounting the author’s childhood experience of the death of his younger brother, it was written very early in his career as a cartoonist. The small, slim volume is quite minimalist in terms of what’s on the page, but at the same time is emotionally rich and complex. In his introduction, Girard notes that he was inspired by Jeffrey Brown’s AEIOU and wanted to create something in a similar narrative style. Turning to his own experiences and working fast, he produced Nicolas. For a relatively inexperienced cartoonist, he shows considerable storytelling skill, producing a sparse account in a series of snapshots. Not only does this mean a greater degree of reader engagement as we are forced to fill in the gaps ourselves, but it does a deft job of conveying the way that a tragedy like this does not have one simple, easy to categorise effect, but produces a varied range of responses at different times. It also manages to show the way children feel things differently to adults, more id than super-ego.
This edition includes an afterword, which makes up about a quarter of the book. Girard’s art is much more refined, as one might expect. It shows how the childhood events affected him as an adult, and focuses quite heavily on his developing relationship with another younger brother born after Nicolas’ death, with whom he was not close. Girard clearly attributes the anxiety disorder he experiences as an adult to his bereavement, and it’s interesting to see how he pieces this together. Nicolas is an honest, moving piece of work, very much enhanced by the new content.