Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Back to Basics, Vol. 1: Real Life by Jean-Yves Ferri & Manu Larcenet

Is it the standard in French comics to list the artist first? I ask because I've seen that a lot, in cases where putting the artist before the writer is subtly weird, and knowing it's how things are supposed to be would help explain why it keeps happening.

Take, for example, the Back to Basics series, written by Manu Larcenet and drawn by Jean-Yves Ferri, who are credited on the first book, Real Life, in the opposite order. (In French, the series is Le retour a la terre, and the first volume is titled La vraie vie.) The story isn't just by Larcenet, it's about him, by name: this is a humorous autobiographical story in which Larcenet and his partner, Mariette, move from the suburbs of Paris to a house called Ravenelles somewhere near Lyon and way out in the countryside.

I'll leave aside for now the central concept of "here are funny stories about me, a cartoonist, in which I'm drawn by someone else," which could be odd to some people.

But, still, this is a book that says "this is the story of me! cartoonist Manu Larcenet! all about me and my amusing travails among the rural folks, who we all know are stronger, better, and more laconic than we soft city-dwellers!" but also says "by Jean-Yves Ferri!" first.

Once you can get past that - though it may seem that I will never get past it - this is a deeply amusing collection of mostly loosely linked fish-out-of-water gags. This all happened twenty years ago - the book was published in French in 2002 and Larcenet decamped to the deep woods in June of '01 according to Wikipedia - so there are some surprising things, such as the size of the computer Larcenet lugs around and sets up in the first few strips.

But it's mostly the expected stuff: the landlord looms unexpectedly, the men of the area are sturdy and work with their hands and expect Larcenet to do his part (which he is deeply unprepared for), an urbanite like Larcenet is worried that rural things (specifically the flower Foxglove) will kill him, friends and family come visit and Are Also Out Of Place but We See Our Heroes Now Fit In Here Somewhat More Comfortably Than At First. It's amusing, even if most of it is pretty obvious or predictable. And Ferri draws funny well: his Larcenet is a little gnome-like creature with a striped shirt, big cap and larger nose, like some urban hooligan dropped into nature.

There are four more of these, which seem to cover much of the following decade - the last of the batch came out in 2008. I'm expecting to hit them before too long: I like French comics, I like slice-of-life comics, I like funny comics, and I like true stories. If you like any or all of those things, check this out: it's available digitally in English through Europe Comics, though it seems to be easier right now to get it free than to pay for it. (I got it through the Hoopla app from my library; it's also on Kindle Unlimited but doesn't seem to have a normal buy-the-ebook price.) 

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