Posted by Don MacPherson on August 2nd, 2013
A User’s Guide to Neglectful Parenting softcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Guy Delisle
Translation: Helge Dascher
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Price: $12.95 US/CAN
I’m almost ashamed to say this is my first exposure to Guy Delisle’s work. I’ve heard his name uttered in glowing terms often in recent years, and on top of that, he’s Canadian (though apparently now living in Europe). I wish I could say it was as a patriotic Canuck that I put my cash on the counter to buy this book, but in reality, it was the title alone that grabbed my attention. I can’t imagine there’s a parent of a baby, toddler or pre-teen that wouldn’t have his or her interest piqued at the title. Delisle’s sense of humor is thoroughly relatable, as are the scenarios he presents here of lazy or impatient parenting. I was entertained from start to finish when reading this book. My main problem with it, though, is how short-lived that entertainment was. As a father, I know real life offers no shortage of material on the subject of bumbling parenting, but this book struck me as surprisingly brief. I suppose in a way it’s a good thing. The book was fun enough that I didn’t want it to be over — they say always leaving them wanting more — but I was also left with the impression the digest didn’t merit the price on the back of the book.
A father of a young son and daughter is a regular guy. He does his best and means well, but sometimes, he’s making life up as it goes along. He loves his kids and wants to spoil them, teach them and guide them, but he’s also forgetful, lazy, impatient and even occasionally jealous. Ward Cleaver, he’s not, but he loves his kids and wants to give them the world. What they get is his sense of wonder and what passes for Wisdom in the Delisle household.
Delisle’s artistic style is a minimalist one, but he manages to get a lot out of his seemingly simple collection of lines. His characters are surprisingly emotive, and I don’t just mean more extreme reactions such as anger or surprise. The father’s confusion and doubt and the children’s understated frustration with their parent’s well-meaning ineptitude are conveyed clearly in incredibly simple ways. Furthermore, the basic nature of the figures reinforces the universal appeal of the situations and characters. The character designs are so basic, it’s easy to imagine oneself in the father’s place or even in the kids’ places. The design of the dad reminds me a bit of Fritz Freling characters from the classic Pink Panther cartoons as well.
This book was originally published in French overseas, and as I read this English translation, part of me wished I’d had the chance to read the original edition. Though he lives in Europe now, Delisle is Quebecois, and in an industry dominated by American and European creators, I’m always interested in delving into the work of a fellow Canadian. I’ve got 12 years of French immersion under my belt, but I’m incredibly rusty when it comes to bilingualism. As such, I’m interested in how well I’d be able to understand and appreciate this work in the original French. Another aspect of the book I enjoyed due to a cultural aspect was Delisle’s references to his former life in Canada. In particular, a sequence about his treasured stash of cereal that he can’t purchase outside of Canada rang incredibly true. But the appeal of that notion and those moments aren’t limited to Canadians; anyone who’s moved away from home and misses something familiar can relate to the ideas in that strip.
Perhaps ultimately, the lesson to be learned here, amid the humor and spotlighting of foibles, is that we’re all children in some way, because the learning never stops. I learned a while ago my parents were basically making things up as they go along, and everybody does to some extent. I’m in my 40s now, and I’ve never felt more like an adult than I have as a parent. But in the end, I still don’t feel “grown up.” I used to think that was the result, in part, of my interests in things that are deemed by society to be the fodder of youth (comics, cartoons, etc.), but I’ve come to realize there’s no such thing as being “grown up.” The term itself implies the achievement of an end point, that one is finished with the process. But there’s only one thing that ends the growing (and it’s a bummer, so I won’t get into it here in a review about a book of humorous cartooning). 7/10
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