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Reunion Paperback – April 12, 2011
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Learn more
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About the Author
Pascal Girard was born in 1981 and lives in Quebec.He is the author of Nicolas and Bigfoot.
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I'm not sure how autobiographical the book is but Girard seems determined to make the reader see him as a pathetic idiot who makes some pretty hateful decisions. He has a lovely girlfriend but he spends most of the book plotting to somehow win the affections of a girl he hasn't seen in years who may or may not even show up, and who barely knew him back then anyway. He Facebook-stalks other former female classmates, leering at photos of them at the beach; he has a wart on his thumb; he is diagnosed with an under-bite and as he loses weight by running (also not depicted charitably) he draws his chin as more pronounced; he's constantly making a fool of himself in public and his lack of confidence and poor social skills lead to embarrassing scenes throughout - this is confessional comic-book hara-kiri.
It's a credit to Girard then that he is so entertaining and his fairly ordinary story is a compelling read from start to finish. He tells the story in panel-like layouts without the panel frames, drawing in a sketchy, almost shaky hand, so the reader gets a sense of Girard's chronic nervousness. The story is well told with the confidence of an experienced storyteller who understands how to pace a tale to keep the reader engaged. It's also his explicit approach revealing his inner-most thoughts that connect the reader to him - I won't say which but I recognised certain less-than-wholesome qualities in Girard that I also share.
Despite portraying himself as a clueless and conceited wannabe still using embarrassingly teenage terms like "winner" or "loser" when defining a person, Girard is fully aware of how he comes across. "Reunion" is an entertaining story of adulthood, change and not growing up with a strangely charming anti-hero for a narrator. Pascal Girard is definitely one of the bright stars in Drawn and Quarterly's catalogue and worth looking up for all comics readers who enjoy independent comics.
But REUNION is no NICOLAS, and wanting it to be isn't at all helpful. NICOLAS was a quiet, small work about one horrible event, told afterward purely through the eyes of the child Girard was at the time. REUNION is a bigger, wider work, full of dialogue, about the foibles of an adult Girard -- it turns into a farcical version of a poor-me memoir towards the end, as all of Girard's illusions and fakeries and baseless hopes all catch up with him at once. (REUNION also could make a good, and mostly conventional, movie, while NICOLAS was pure comics in a way that wouldn't translate to another form.)
So Pascal Girard -- as he presents himself in REUNION -- is coming up on his tenth high-school reunion and is a raw bundle of repressed self-loathing and anxiety, worried that he's a "loser," worried about his teeth, his weight, his clothes, his glasses, his looks. He makes Woody Allen look composed and self-assured, all right? It's not a pretty sight; the Girard of REUNION is deeply unhappy about everything in his life, and his attempts to make himself better are all outward-directed: they're designed to make other people like him better, to fix his problems, because if the world thinks he's a "winner," then everything will be fine.
The Girard creating this graphic novel never lets that sad-sack pose slip for a moment: the Girard of the book is entirely unaware of his real problems from beginning to end, though he does realize, eventually, how badly he's handled the opportunity of the reunion. But the Girard of the book is so blinded by his own neuroses and needs that he botches every opportunity he has -- he exercises to look good, and gets unhealthier and more injured as he goes, he can't manage to just have fun at his own reunion, since he's so focused on "winning," and he ends the book hiding in his apartment from people who just want to be his friends.
Clearly, Girard in real life could not have been this clueless and tormented, or else the Girard telling this story would not have realized how bad he was. But the Girard of the story never comes to the realization that Girard-the-author must have -- or, possibly worse, Girard-the-author has played up all of the misery and neurosis to make it all more obviously "funny" and conventional. There's no catharsis at the end; the Girard of Reunion doesn't learn anything, and the reader expects that he's just going to sink further into his own misery as time goes on. There's no reason for him not to.
And so REUNION ends up being a sad, dispiriting book despite all of its aren't-I-ludicrous set-pieces and copious physical humor. It's no fun laughing at a fool; it's only fun to laugh at someone playing a fool. And Girard-the-author doesn't allow Girard-the-character a moment of not being a fool to allow for the possibility that it was an act, or that he could (or did!) get better afterward.
Girard's art is sweet and evocative, with lumpily real faces and bodies -- he's great at drawing comedy, and REUNION is honestly funny a lot of the time. His grid of six borderless panels to the page also keeps the flow moving; Girard uses a lot of dialogue, and the low number of panels per page keeps the text from overwhelming the art. But I wish he'd thought more about the shape of his story here, and less about how to shoehorn more funny bits in at his own expense.