It Don’t Come Easy is a collection of stories featuring Monsieur Jean, a largely sympathetic Parisien, his shiftless friend Felix, Jean’s girlfriend Cathy, and their kids, by the French duo Dupuy & Barberian. Unlike Goscinny & Uderzo or other comics duos, Dupuy & Barberian both work on the direction, writing, and art together, which is fairly interesting. Especially given how long they’ve worked on Monsiur Jean–since 1998. That’s twenty solid years.
I’d read an episode of Monsieur Jean’s before in one of those oversized D & Q quarterlies from the early 2000’s, and it hadn’t struck a chord. Yet I find this collection extremely likable and compelling. What had changed in between? For one thing, this volume collects four stories that show the progress of age regarding the central characters, showing a commitment to their lives, and a willingness to wrestle with the effects of time and societal forces upon the lives of these individuals. This is one of the things I love about Jaime Hernandez’s work. Since it’s done with love and executed fairly well here, it’s one of the things I now love about Dupuy & Barberian’s work.
Besides the growth of the characters, you can actually see the growth of Dupuy & Barberian’s craft. They employ a cute BD style that simplifies features and eschews natural perspective for the tilted planes of a design universe. Sort of like Seth without the melancholy, or perhaps Maurice Vellekoop without the gloss. All of these artists seem to emerge from a collective 90’s aesthetic that privileges charm over realism. However, whereas Dupuy & Barberian’s art doesn’t grab me so much in the first story, by the second, it has managed to charm and hook me, and I begin to see the appeal of their popularity. By the third, I am fully immersed in their sensibility and storytelling.
In terms of the stories, they deal with the characters navigating relationships and growing up. Given that the authors are male, the balance is tipped towards the male point of view, so we see the guys struggling with choices, commitment, fatherhood and responsibility, job prospects, and the sheer befuddlement of growing older against one’s will. The women in their lives have agency and a solid heft to their presence in Jean and Felix’s lives but they remain enchanting creatures, at turns mysterious and cross, loving and discontent. Towards the end of the volume, a female friend of Cathy is introduced who does steer some of the attention away from Jean and Felix, wrestling with dating malaise and vagaries of her own, largely for comedic effect.
The comedy and ultimately light touch are part of the stories’ charm. They’re not exactly bittersweet, but they’re not frivolous either. They possess a lighthearted French resignation, interspersed with moments that are fleetingly Freudian (through wonderful use of dreams) and seriously screwball. Somewhere between Friends and Woody Allen’s films is how I’d characterize it. All in all, these comic stories are good-natured, engaging, and value all the important things in life: friendship, love, commitment, humanism. And it’s all done with a distinctly French savoir faire.