North Adams Transcript
Miss Don’t Touch Me
by Hubert and Kerascoet (NBM)
Combining one part violent revenge fantasy and one part saucy, whodunit comedy, "Miss Don’t Touch Me" benefits from its French pedigree.
It’s the story of an innocent girl who finds a position in a house of prostitution in order to find out who murdered her sister. In the hands of any other nationality, this could be lurid and overwrought, but in the hands of Hubert and Kerascoet, this is an amusing romp.
It’s the turn of the 20th century, and Paris is being terrorized by the so-called "Butcher of the Dances," who preys on young girls walking home from at night. Florence’s sister, Agatha, is one of those girls who loves going to the dances, and through a series of related circumstances, she ends up dead.
With others claiming the death was a suicide, Florence sets out to find the killer by taking up a job as untouchable prostitute whose main job is to boss around the clients and have them kiss her feet. In the house, she runs up against mean hookers, befriends Annette, who works in a dungeon with a dominatrix, and encounters a transvestite who looks like Josephine Baker. Inside the house of ill repute seems to be the entire French government and underworld, cavorting together for some hidden thrills.
It’s within this set-up that a spicy "Perils of Pauline" style mystery unfolds. It’s a decidedly adult venture, never shying away from the daily -- and nightly -- indiscretions within a house of prostitution, but Hubert and Kerascoet perform an amazing sleight of hand here. The naughty trappings are certainly front and center, but the writing is sharp and the art is charming -- the skill with which they tell their story diverts from any perceived gratuitous nature.
Being French certainly doesn’t hurt, though -- it’s a nation known for this tightrope walk, from the writings of Colette to any given modern film release, the country specialize in mixing sexually-preoccupied material with profound examinations of humanity.
"Miss Don’t Touch Me" isn’t exactly a monumental work of the intellect, by any measure, but it benefits from the same culture and succeeds because of the depth that is so standard there.
Nicolas by Pascal Girard
(Drawn and Quarterly)
"Nicolas" is a deceptively simple book that takes slices from the life of creator Pascal Girard’s life that all revolve around his younger brother, who died as a child. Girard’s cartooning takes form in simple scrawls, but the childlike renderings hint at the young man who lives inside Girard and has since his brother died.
Each simple line is an utterance by someone hidden trying to express himself and his anger but unable to focus in on what exactly his emotions spring from. Clearly, they sprouted from the death of his brother, but the reality of that death is so complex and without a center -- there is no blame to go around -- that anger can only be expressed without a target.
Girard tells his own story with clarity, never letting himself off the hook easily, nor coming down too hard on himself. He has patience for his own life -- and if he doesn’t, who will?
Girard must let his story -- and his self-examination -- unfold in vignettes. Rather than intricately going over the sweeping psychology of the incident and his life after, he focuses in on the little moments that speak to the larger truths. Particularly sad are the moments just after Nicolas’ death, where, as a young boy, Girard can’t possibly live up to the grief that is no doubt expected of him.
He doesn’t quite understand the big deal, and he expresses that confusion with a kid’s nonchalance and self-indulgence. As the years wear on, we see how the whole of growing up becomes a prolonged kind of grieving for Girard, an elongated process that includes the creation of this book as part of it.