Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Paul Up North by Michel Rabagliati

Of course Paul Riforati is not Michel Rabagliati -- he has a different name, see?

But Rabagliati has now given us about 1200 pages of comics -- not all of which have made it into the English language, true -- about Riforati and his life. They may all be completely fictional: Paul may just be someone born at about the same time as Rabagliati, living in the same places, having the same jobs, with all of the emotional and story content entirely unconnected to Rabagliati's life.

Sure. That's plausible, isn't it?

We don't know Rabagliati personally. We almost never know a creator personally. So he could have made it all up.

But I don't think so. What a creator does is not so much "create," which implies making something out of whole cloth, but transforming. And the Paul stories are one of the finest examples of life transformed into art that the modern world has to offer.

Paul Up North is the sixth book about Paul to be translated into English, according to Rabagliati's bibliography. (If I'm tracking it correctly, there's two full books and some shorter stuff -- Paul dans le metro and Paul au parc -- that haven't made it to my language.) We've previously seen Paul Has a Summer Job, when he was 17, Paul Moves Out, covering a year or two on each side of 20, Paul Goes Fishing, which combines a frame story of Paul at 30 with an embedded story of him at 15, The Song of Roland, less focused on Paul himself but finding him in his thirties, and Paul Joins the Scouts, when he was 9 and 10.

Up North falls right in the middle of the previous books, covering roughly a year between the runaway in Goes Fishing and the highschool dropout in Summer Job. This book doesn't bounce around in time like some of the others do: it's told in order, seeing Paul start to grow up and separate from his family. He gets a new best friend, a first girlfriend, a mode of transportation all his own, and a place away from his parents where he can be his new self. He also spends a lot of time with his uninhibited uncle, who gives him other chances to be someone different than the sullen teen his parents are becoming all-too-familiar with.

It's a stage of life that everyone has to go through. Some do it earlier, some later. Some fly on their own, some are shoved out with force and have to make it however they can. Paul was lucky: he had a loving family and a stable society, and lived in a time when he could hitchhike a few hundred miles north without too much trouble. So, though there's sadness here -- adolescence is always fraught, and remaking yourself doesn't always take -- it's, in the end, a positive story of a boy making the steps that will help turn him into a man.

As always, Rabagliati tells the story with quiet confidence and control. His people still have that appealing UPA-ish look, simplified just enough to be universal, and his backgrounds are somewhat more realistic but still take that slight turn into cartoony abstraction. He's a great chronicler of his own life -- or, I should say, of this life that we assume is parallel to his own.

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