Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #30: Paul Has a Summer Job by Michel Rabagliati

A decade can be a long time: I read Paul Has a Summer Job in the fall of 2007, and praised it here. I went on to read all of Michel Rabagliati's books that had been translated into English at the time, and keep up with his work since then.

And when I re-read Summer Job this month, I had the distinct feeling that this was a book in the loose series that I hadn't read; that this was, maybe, the last of the older books that I finally found. I knew the character; I knew the series -- but I'd forgotten reading this book so thoroughly that it was brand-new to me.

Is that the power of art or early-onset senility? I'm hoping for the former. But we'll have to see if I start walking into things...more than usual, I mean.

Paul Has a Summer Job was originally published in 2003, and translated into English for the Drawn & Quarterly edition (by Helge Dasher, who translates so much for them, and so well) in 2005. It was the first full-length book in the series -- leaving aside arguments about what constitutes a "full-length book," especially with a creator hearkening to the European model of Spirou and Asterix -- after the album-length Paul à la campagne in 1999. It is as autobiographical or not as any of the books in the series: we all guess that means "as true as anything is," but we are not Michel (or Paul), so we never know for sure.

But that's the way of art, of course. With good art, you don't know for sure. Bad art is flat: it can only be taken one way. Good art has depths and nuances. Rabagliati makes good art, which means we can disagree about it.

This is the story of "Paul's" first real job. He quit school, just before his final year, because the school head maneuvered him into getting a grant to beautify the school and then cut Paul (whose entire project it was, and who was heavily invested in it) out of the work entirely. That sets the tone for a lot of the Paul stories: he can come across as lazy, or diffident, or unconnected, but Paul has a powerful urge to work on things that matter to him, that he can put right. This is the story of the first time that really worked out well for him.

Paul got dragged into being a counselor at a summer camp for disadvantaged kids that summer, at the last minute, through a friend. And he did start out with the wrong attitude, and little understanding of what it all meant. (He was seventeen; need I say more?) But it did all work out -- and Rabagliati had enough distance from the real events, however different they might have been, to shape them into this story, which loops back (like so many of the Paul stories do) to the man as an adult.

Rabaliati's style was fully-formed even this early, with that mid-century look that I tend to call "UPA" as shorthand. Even in this first long book, he was a fine storyteller and a diligent cartoonist. And that's true even if I'd forgotten how good this book was, or exactly what happened in it.

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