Friday, February 24, 2023

The Old Geezers, Vol. 1 by Wilfrid Lupano and Paul Cauuet

First off, I have to tell you that this is a whole thing: the book I'm writing about today contains the first two (of five to date) albums in the series, the series has been a big bestseller in France, and there even has been a movie (which looks to stick really closely to the first album, in both casting and plot), Les vieux fourneaux, a few years ago. (Oh, wait! There was a second movie in early 2022, too.)

If The Old Geezers doesn't look like the kind of thing that would be a big deal in your nation, you may be American like me, or you may just be Not French. (No shame there, most of the world is Not French, and what it would be like if the world were entirely made of French people?) But know that it is, and that creators Wilfrid Lupano and Paul Cauuet appear to be riding that train gleefully as far as it will take them.

The cover shows the three title characters: Pierrot (right), Emile (center), and Antoine (left), three retired men, probably in their mid-70s, who have known each other since they were boys. It is roughly the mid-teens; their peak young-and-crazy years coincide almost exactly with the 1960s. And all three of them were young and crazy in their own ways - in fact, Pierrot is clearly still crazy, and the other two not that far behind him. Antoine was a union organizer and leader, Pierrot a less-definable rebel and anarchist (this does not seem to be a career path, but we don't see much else about his younger life), and Emile traveled the world by sea doing what seems to have been various things for decades.

Oddly, both of these albums have roughly the same plot: one of the men learns a Shocking Fact from the past (or thinks he has) and sets off to kill someone. I'll just focus on the first album, where the man is Antoine, and what he learns is that his wife Lucette (whose funeral forms the beginning of the book) had a torrid affair, very long ago, with the hated Garan-Servier, owner of the local factory and Antoine's nemesis. Garan-Sevier is now living in a rest home in Tuscany, deep in the throes of Alzheimer's, but Antoine immediately sets out alone to get his revenge.

Pierrot enlists Emile to help him chase and stop Antoine, and also Antoine's very pregnant granddaughter Sophie (who looks almost exactly like Lucette did in her youth, for plot-necessary reasons), to have someone who can actually drive somewhat safely. These three chase Antoine, and all arrive for a confrontation with Garan-Servier.

This is all told in a semi-slapstick style; Lupano maintains an interesting tone throughout - not entirely serious, but committed. There's a lot of humor, and at the expense of the characters, but they are not caricatures. They are real, loud, grumpy people, deeply committed to their causes and crotchets and having worn deep grooves in the fabric of their lives over the decades. We worry about them in a way that might seem odd for a book this humor-filled and slapstick-y; the slapstick is real, in a way - we know they could easily get hurt or die, and not just because they're old and getting fragile.

The second book is more of the same, but more focused on Pierrot. It also gets more deeply into their politics: Antoine and Pierrot were very activist in their youth (and since then), though Emile's politics are less clear. Pierrot still works closely with an anarchist collective in Paris, where he lives, and their various activities - all mostly focused on the troubles old people can create - are central to the second album and a lot of gleeful anarchic fun.

What strikes me as particularly French here is the politics - not just its existence, but how it plays out, how it has been important to their lives - and the way they express themselves as old men. An American version of this story would be sillier, and not take the men seriously; a British version would be more serious, I think.

Cauuet embeds that story and that committedness, in a real world - his backgrounds are detailed, his camera always in motion, and his people heavily caricatured, just this side of cartoony. Especially the older ones, and especially men - young women are specific, but more obviously "attractive woman," while all elders and most of the men are "this weird, specific person." This is yet another book I read digitally that I wish I had seen at full album size; Cauuet's art, I imagine, is even more fun seen as large as possible.

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