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Two Graphic Novels Offering Quotidian Delights

Stay home, cozy up, and read these excellent books that make ordinary life feel extraordinary.

Dorothy Woodend 6 Jan 2021 | TheTyee.ca

Dorothy Woodend is culture editor of The Tyee. Reach her here.

The New Year is a time to contemplate what just happened and what might be coming. For me, some of the best perspectives on coping with the unpredictability of life right now came from an unexpected place: graphic novels.

Canadians have long excelled at the form, and the bounty of artists and writers on offer from Montreal publisher Drawn and Quarterly is almost staggering. They seem to publish something to suit every taste, however far out, but two of the best deal with distinctly quotidian concerns.

PAUL AT HOME, by Michel Rabagliati
Drawn and Quarterly (2020)

Paul at Home is the most recent offering from graphic novelist Michel Rabagliati, featuring his everyman underdog hero. Following previous books Paul Up North, Paul Goes Fishing and Paul Joins the Scouts, this latest iteration finds our hero navigating the complexities that come later in life: aging parents, failed relationships and children leaving home.

As he cares for his elderly mother, Paul is forced to contend with his own choices. With attention paid to the details — the time, place and, most importantly, the feelings — of middle age, the book packs an emotional wallop akin to a shovel to the back of one’s head, or maybe more accurately, a dagger to the heart.

In exquisitely rendered black and white panels, the indignities of bodily breakdown accrue — everything from dental problems to sleep apnea.

But there are other larger issues on the horizon. Is it possible to find love later in life? What does it mean to have a good death? And how do you go on when everything starts to feel somewhat pointless and sad? Sometimes compassion and comfort come from the most unlikely of places.

Long celebrated in Quebec, Rabagliati has an eye for the emotional nuance carried in mundane objects — a bottle of perfume, a trashy paperback novel, a box of cereal. With translation from Helge Dascher and Rob Aspinall, Paul at Home is a sweetly poignant reminder of the transitory and fleeting nature of existence.

In the excerpt below, small moments from Paul’s mother’s life are depicted, in all their ordinary/extraordinary scope.

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Drawn and Quarterly (2020)

The Contradictions offers a different perspective. The winner of the prestigious Eisner Award, Yanow’s novel charts the path of Sophie, a young queer woman spending a semester abroad in Paris.

Like Paul at Home, there’s a strong element of the autobiographical, but from the point of view of a younger person just starting out and making their fair share of mistakes.

When Sophie and her new friend Zena decide to hitchhike around Europe over the holiday break, they learn things the hard way. The intricacies of hitching rides, finding a place to crash and, most importantly, getting coffee are tackled one city at a time as the pair travel from Paris to Amsterdam and finally Berlin.

Along the way, life lessons on friendship, responsibility and how to avoid getting arrested by the cops for stealing vegan foodstuffs are documented in Yanow’s spare and elegant drawings.

A Roman à clef in the best sense of the term, the story is immediately familiar to anyone who has gone the process of figuring out who they are, which is to say, almost everyone.

Enjoy the excerpt below.

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