Wednesday, March 08, 2023

World Record Holders by Guy Delisle

This is a flashback: you need to know that first.

Guy Delisle's comics career has been mostly circling the lands of memoir - a series of longer, more serious books about his travels, created when he was a working animator and/or lived in interesting places of the world (Shenzhen, Pyongyang, Burma Chronicles, Jerusalem), and a series of shorter, funnier books about his "bad dad" parenting style (User's Guide, Even More, Owner's Manual, Handbook). His most recent major book, Factory Summers, was also in that mode: a look back at the job he went back to, several years in a row, while he was in school.

The outlier is his book Hostage, which is non-fiction and the story of one person's time in a particular place, but was about someone else, not Delisle himself.

But Delisle's first couple of books [1]  were stranger, quirkier things: two collections of short wordless comics, full of transformations and uneasy connections, Aline and the Others and Albert and the Others. They were originally published in 1999 and 2001, with North American editions in 2006-7. Like a lot of creators, Delisle started with shorter comics and then turned to book-length stories.

And he was making comics before the Aline and Albert stories - there's a French book, Réflexion, back in 1996, which I suspect was short comics. If I were a betting man - and I am very much not - I would say some of those stories are probably in this book.

Which finally brings me to World Record Holders, a collection of Delisle's short, mostly earlier comics. It was translated by Helge Dascher and Rob Aspinall and published in 2022. It collects twenty-two stories, originally appearing in various places - mostly magazines and anthologies, I think, with a whole lot in Lapin, a couple from Deslie's 2002 French collection Comment ne rien faire, a handful in Spoutnik, and a few other scattered publications - between 1995 and 2014. But the 2014 story is an outlier; other than that, the newest piece is from 2007, and about three-quarters were published by 2002.

These are very much stories by a young creator trying new and different things; the art is mostly similar to Delisle's mature style, but "similar" covers a lot of ground, and the level of finish varies a lot here, along with other details of line width and shading and use of blacks. That's a lot of fun to see, and the styles generally work well for the individual stories.

It opens and closes with two short autobio stories, from 2001 and '02, of Delisle - in very much his modern style - confronting the blank page early in his cartooning career. They make strong bookends, and also help bring the reader into the odder, quirkier material in the middle: most of these comics are not about Delisle at fact, I'd be hard-pressed to make any overall statements about this collection, to say what it's "about" in any comprehensive way. 

There are stories that may have been experiments, or try-outs, or explorations. Shaggy dog stories, artistic exercises, a few pieces of short autobio. A whole lot of a variety, in art and tone and matter and style - but all Delisle, all pretty successful, all enjoyable to read. And, yes, there is a title story - it's buried, almost exactly in the middle, so you'll have to find it to learn what records Delisle is talking about.

[1] In English translation, at least - assuming that means something for wordless comics. I see from Wikipedia that Delisle did a number of books in French that have never been translated, and I'm particularly intrigued by the "Inspecteur Moroni" series.

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