An engaging and bittersweet set of comics detailing the rather ordinary life of Monsieur Jean, a kind of late-twentysomething Everyman. Dupuy and Berberian, who collaborated on all aspects of this comics' writing and illustration, create a meaningful storyline for Jean without sacrificing humor or imagination. Jean's misadventures in love are nicely tempered by more lighthearted scenes, including Jean's endless standoff with the apartment building's concierge as well as the running gag of the telephone ringing every time Jean settles into a warm bath.
Dupuy and Berberian's strength resides in their mastery of quotidian observation. This extends not only to their writing but also to their illustrations, which reflect a fine sense of detail for apartment clutter, youth culture, and the vagaries of life in the city, among other things. Their lines and coloring are pleasant to the eye, and the artistry of Jean's dream sequences is especially notable.
Credit to the Montreal-based publishing collective Drawn & Quarterly for bringing Dupuy and Berberian across the Atlantic in a superb English translation. Some of the best graphic novels are being published by independent houses these days. Available in a lovely hardcover edition, this book deserves the highest praise for its literary, graphic, and book-design quality.
Comics for the most part are a collaborative medium usually with one person writing, another drawing, another inking, colouring, lettering, and so on. Rarely do you find two people who work on a comic and do both the writing and drawing together, but such is the case with Charles Berberian and Phillippe Dupuy. In fact, their drawing/writing styles are so similar, they’ve said that even they have a hard time figuring out who did what in their comics!
Get a Life collects the first of their acclaimed and bestselling Monsieur Jean comics from 1989 to the early ‘90s, a time I only mention because you’ll notice that when people want to make a phone call outside they go to a phone box, and they can smoke indoors everywhere! Besides small details though, these comics are timeless and wonderful.
Jean is a young writer in Paris and we follow his travails with women, friends, his concierge (landlady), the everyday material mixed up with fantasy/dream sequences, comedy and a vivid, eye-catching art style. The stories are often entertaining and funny like when Jean looks after his friend’s cat and ends up arrested for suspected sex in a public park, or when he takes on a screenwriting job for an unscrupulous film producer and has to dodge mob enforcers.
But there’s some beautiful, slice of life stories here too that are quite poignant. Like when Jean realises he and his childhood friend have grown apart, or the time he recounts his first break-up, or the story where he battles his critical “dark side” who tries to convince him that his writing is as worthless as the critics say it is. There are also stories that apply to his age of late 20s/early 30s like trying to find a decent flat for a reasonable rent, seeing friends having kids of their own, and being nagged about marriage by his nearest and dearest (he’s something of a playboy).
The art is absolutely lush in true Gallic style - Jean has the same bulbous nose as the more famous French character, Asterix! Charming European architecture, the colours, and the settings: moonlit parties in apartments, lengthy meals in exotic restaurants, glamorous nightclubs, contrasted with smashed up flats, rainy nights, heartbreak, insomnia and food poisoning. Regardless of what they’re writing about, all of Dupuy and Berberian’s panels look amazing.
If you collect gorgeously produced comics, this is a great one to get. High quality, thick paper, excellent printing, well-designed - it’s a lovely object in itself. Full marks to Drawn & Quarterly! Also, if you love these comics and want more, check out the Drawn & Quarterly Anthologies Vols 3 and 5 for some lengthy 50+ page Monsieur Jean stories that follow the character as he ages, gets married, becomes a dad, etc. - they’re also really good!
I first bought/read this back in 2007 and, re-reading it 7 years later, it’s still as fantastic as I remembered. If you enjoy non-superhero comics and want to sample some of the best grown-up comics France has to offer, look no further than Dupuy & Berberian’s Get a Life. Funny, moving, romantic, enjoyable and totally compelling, Monsieur Jean is the best!
on November 25, 2008
I'm new to the graphic novel genre, as I have only recently discovered they are not all about Japanese vampires battling evil and sexual tension.
Get A Life is something else all together. It has humor but it is small, gentle humor. It doesn't have thick plots, no deep pains or truths to exorcise.
It's just a French guy living a French life flanked by interchangeable attractive women and so-so friends. In fact, all the characters are so-so people, no heroes and few villains, very real in that respect.
Compelling, not boring, but no deep shakes. Another book I liked even though I sense I (American female a generation behind Jean) am not the intended audience. If I were the intended, I might think it was genius.
on October 5, 2008
I have A LOT of graphic novels and I am constantly updating my collection, but Get A Life remains one of my favorite books EVER. Wonderful, seemingly effortless art supports a witty story that never gets old even after a hundred reads. Get A Life lives among the best comics ever produced, along with Craig Thompson's Blankets, Graham Annable's Grickle, and Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes.