Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Graphic Lit: Memoirs, memoirs

Stroll into any big-chain bookstore these days and peruse its stacks of new releases and you'll notice that memoirs are hot stuff these days, controversies about their potential truthfulness aside.

It's not just prose books that are jumping on the autobiography bandwagon.

The success of books such as "Fun Home" have led many artists to attempt to relate their personal experiences in a sequential art format.

Jeffrey Brown is probably one of the best-known practitioners in this field, having made a name for himself by chronicling various cringe-inducing love affairs in books like "Clumsy" and "Unlikely."

His latest is "Little Things: A Memoir in Slices." As the title suggests, Brown decidedly focuses on the minor, at times quotidian events of life -- a camping trip in the mountains, witnessing a
terrible car accident, an unexpected illness.

Drawing in a sketchy, cartoony style, Brown has a keen eye for detail that makes his stories come alive. Ultimately "Little Things" seems to be about the ways minor, unexpected events can force us to reassess or even alter our lives.

At the outset of the book, Brown is your typical lonely single guy. By the end, he's a new dad. Even he seems surprised by how he got from A to B.

Philippe Dupuy's "Haunted" is much more hallucinatory and experimental than "Little Things" though it's no less autobiographical.

A Frenchman, Dupuy is best known for his collaborations with Charles Berberian, particularly on the "M. Jean" series (collected in North America under the title "Get A Life").

Striking out on his own, Dupuy loosens up his style considerably, to the point where the drawings have a desperate, dashed-off quality, as though he's attempting to get the images on paper as quickly as they enter into his brain.

Ostensibly a loose collection of daydreams and ruminations hadwhile out jogging, "Haunted" is suffused with a surreal sense of horror and despair (dismemberment is a running theme throughout the book), whether it involves Dupuy directly or the strange cast of anthropomorphic characters that occasionally pop up.

Reading "Haunted," it's obvious that Dupuy is wrestling with personal demons that, while familiar, remain subtly enigmatic. The result is an unsettling but compelling read that lives up to its title. It will stick around in your brain for a few days.

Rather than go for the straightforward or experimental approach, perhaps the best option in penning a memoir is to fictionalize everything, as Canadian Michel Rabagliati does in his "Paul" series.

Obviously a stand-in for Rabagliati, the "Paul" books follow the young man as he stumbles through school, matures into a young man and finds a career and true love.

The latest entry in the series, "Paul Goes Fishing," finds the titular character and his wife attempting to start a family during a lengthy fishing vacation.

The trip provides Paul with the chance for numerous ruminations and remembrances, and the book frequently diverges into long digressions as Paul remembers influential events from his past or that of his friends and family.

Despite the constant side excursions, the book is an utter delight and my favorite of the three. Paul's everyman qualities are endearing and Rabagliati has a lovely rail-thin line that conveys a good deal of nuanced emotion.

In fictionalizing his life story, Rabagliati has arrived at a more honest story than a pure memoir could probably provide.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2008

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home