"A User's Guide To Neglectful Parenting" by Guy Delisle (Drawn and Quarterly)
Cartoonist Guy Delisle is better known for his graphic novel travelogues to sometimes dangerous, always mysterious, places like North Korea, Burma and Jerusalem, where he combines the everyday life of an outsider in such settings with an investigation of the wider political situations affecting his visit.
In "A User's Guide To Neglectful Parenting," Delisle turns inward and offers this collection of short stories -- originally published in France -- capturing the interaction between him and his young children.
Delisle's wife is a member of Doctors Without Borders, which is how he ends up in the places he does. As a freelance cartoonist working from home, it also makes him the primary caregiver to the kids wherever they are. In this collection, he's determined to present himself as with no romantic sheen -- often preoccupied, sometimes clueless, cranky and occasionally inappropriate -- Delisle tackles the queries of his kids with an exhausted cleverness that any parent can certainly identify with as they juggle aspects of their life while trying to guide their child into the world at large.
Delisle's son is at the age where he is questioning the childish reality grown-ups have presented to him, whether it's a little mouse that he's been told trades money for his tooth under a pillow or the Easter Bunny. His daughter is just coming into her own, interested in healthy Canadian cereals and fearing baby snatchers. Delisle almost always handles the situations wrong -- at least, if you're comparing it to a child-rearing manual.
In the hands of someone else, this book could all fall apart, but Delisle's irreverent style of parenting might well illicit an "I've been there before" reaction from those reading it. Even if not, it's a hilarious bit of honesty that actually offers an accessibility greater than any of his travelogues.
"Paul Joins The Scouts" by Michel Rabagliati (Conundrum Press)
Michel Rabagliati's semi-autobiographical Paul series has consistently mixed a gentle nature with a sense of profundity about the human existence, all within the fascinating confines of the recent history of Quebec. In his new book, "Paul Joins The Scouts," Rabagliati tops himself, even with the excellent "Song of Roland" as the previous entry in the series.
Jetting back to 1969, Paul is coming of age at a time of turmoil for Quebec and Canada, when a French-separatist terrorist organization, called the FLQ, elevated fears among ordinary people as it preyed on politicians, pushing a sense of danger at any moment.
Paul is on the fringes of awareness of the FLQ,, which he mostly hears chatter about in the background from his parents and relatives, a mix of native Quebecois and French immigrants, who all pretty much see the FLQ as out of control. To a kid, though, it's a bit exciting, especially as part of the wider world he's now trying to figure out -- one that includes girls and, in the form of the Scouts, adventure.
The Scouts aren't a plan that Paul follows, but an accident, an opportunity to forge his own life separate from his parents and his heritage, and also confront the great outdoors. In particular, Paul bonds with one of the Scout leaders, Daniel, an animated and charismatic communist who offers his pack understanding, while still challenging their intellect and the perception of the world.
It's an awakening for Paul -- by the end, in more ways than one and some of them quite dark. But despite that turn, as usual, Rabagliati manages to express the worst without casting his narrative into depression. With the amiable and well-considered humanity of his tales and the backdrop of Quebec offering all sorts of societal and historical tidbits to those of us who don't live there, the Paul series is destined for a larger audience beyond the graphic novel world, an example of well-rounded and insightful ventures into the human experience.