Friday, March 23, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #82: Nicolas by Pascal Girard

Early success is the most dangerous kind. Great success for something you did quickly can be even worse. When the two are combined...well, it's hard for your career to be other than disappointing afterward.

Nicolas wasn't Pascal Girard's first comics work, or first book -- but it was really close, on both counts. And it's pretty clear I wasn't the only one really impressed by this short book -- it was widely praised for its raw honesty and authentic grief at the time.

Girard has an introduction in this expanded 2016 edition of Nicolas about how it came to be and how it affected him. And his other memoirs -- I've seen Reunion and Petty Theft; there may be others still lurking in Quebecois French I don't know of -- show other sides of Girard, of the man who lived through this as a boy. I don't think it's something you get over.

Nicolas was Girard's younger brother. Girard was born in 1981, and, around 1990, when Girard was nine and Nicolas was five, Nicolas died. Girard didn't know what killed him for a while -- he eventually learned it was lactic acidosis, which was probably just as meaningful to him then as it is to you or me right now. It's two medical words, technical terms, that mean "your kid brother is dead."

Nicolas, the original book, is bookended by scenes with Nicolas alive. The two boys are playing with a tape recorder, making Ghostbusters jokes. I have to imagine that tape still exists. I have to imagine Girard listening to it, years later, when about to make this book. But I can't imagine what that must feel like.

Girard says, in that new introduction, that he wanted to do a quick book, inspired by Jeffrey Brown. That he planned it out a bit, writing some stories and memories in a notebook. But that the comics pages themselves, one or two quick borderless panels to a page, came out over a long weekend. Sometimes strong material is like that: it needs to come out, and forces its way onto the page.

This new edition of Nicolas includes the original book, that new introduction, and a comics afterword -- twenty-five pages about Girard in the years since Nicolas was published. As Girard says in his introduction, those pages ended up being about Girard's other brother, Joel. The one even younger than Nicolas, the one who didn't die. The one that grown-up Girard mostly ignores, even when they live in the same city.

Girard, as always, is unsparing of his own flaws and foibles -- his comics sometimes feel like penance on his part, as he drags his worst self out for self-ridicule and as the butt of every joke. Nicolas, maybe, explains why, or points to a possible reason. It's still the strongest comics work I've seen from Girard, for all its rawness, for all it was done quickly by a novice creator. Some stories need to be told, and this one made Girard tell it brilliantly.

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