Monday, May 16, 2011

Reunion by Pascal Girard

I may have unrealistic expectations for Pascal Girard; I reviewed his short graphic novel Nicolas (a quiet, perfectly poised book about the death of Girard's younger brother at the age of five) for ComicMix two years ago, and was massively impressed. So I was thrilled to see a new graphic novel from him, and even mildly encouraged by the fact that it was another memoir.

But Reunion is no Nicolas, and wanting it to be isn't at all helpful. Nicolas was a quiet, small work about one horrible event, told afterward purely through the eyes of the child Girard was at the time. Reunion is a bigger, wider work, full of dialogue, about the foibles of an adult Girard -- it turns into a farcical version of a poor-me memoir towards the end, as all of Girard's illusions and fakeries and baseless hopes all catch up with him at once. (Reunion also could make a good, and mostly conventional, movie, while Nicolas was pure comics in a way that wouldn't translate to another form.)

So Pascal Girard -- as he presents himself in Reunion -- is coming up on his tenth high-school reunion and is a raw bundle of repressed self-loathing and anxiety, worried that he's a "loser," worried about his teeth, his weight, his clothes, his glasses, his looks. He makes Woody Allen look composed and self-assured, all right? It's not a pretty sight; the Girard of Reunion is deeply unhappy about everything in his life, and his attempts to make himself better are all outward-directed: they're designed to make other people like him better, to fix his problems, because if the world thinks he's a "winner," then everything will be fine.

The Girard creating this graphic novel never lets that sad-sack pose slip for a moment: the Girard of the book is entirely unaware of his real problems from beginning to end, though he does realize, eventually, how badly he's handled the opportunity of the reunion. But the Girard of the book is so blinded by his own neuroses and needs that he botches every opportunity he has -- he exercises to look good, and gets unhealthier and more injured as he goes, he can't manage to just have fun at his own reunion, since he's so focused on "winning," and he ends the book hiding in his apartment from people who just want to be his friends.

Clearly, Girard in real life could not have been this clueless and tormented, or else the Girard telling this story would not have realized how bad he was. But the Girard of the story never comes to the realization that Girard-the-author must have -- or, possibly worse, Girard-the-author has played up all of the misery and neurosis to make it all more obviously "funny" and conventional. There's no catharsis at the end; the Girard of Reunion doesn't learn anything, and the reader expects that he's just going to sink further into his own misery as time goes on. There's no reason for him not to.

And so Reunion ends up being a sad, dispiriting book despite all of its aren't-I-ludicrous set-pieces and copious physical humor. It's no fun laughing at a fool; it's only fun to laugh at someone playing a fool. And Girard-the-author doesn't allow Girard-the-character a moment of not being a fool to allow for the possibility that it was an act, or that he could (or did!) get better afterward.

Girard's art is sweet and evocative, with lumpily real faces and bodies -- he's great at drawing comedy, and Reunion is honestly funny a lot of the time. His grid of six borderless panels to the page also keeps the flow moving; Girard uses a lot of dialogue, and the low number of panels per page keeps the text from overwhelming the art. But I wish he'd thought more about the shape of his story here, and less about how to shoehorn more funny bits in at his own expense.


Anonymous said...

What did you think of Bigfoot? I loved both Nicolas and Bigfoot; I haven't read Reunion yet, but I'm looking forward to doing so.


Andrew Wheeler said...

Matthew: I actually missed Bigfoot; I still need to find a copy of it.

Conor said...

Sorry to hear Reunion didn't live up to expectations. I will make sure to check out Nicolas though. Sounds like a great read.

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