Sunday, 28 September 2014

Maybe Later Review (Charles Berberian, Phillippe Dupuy)

Maybe Later is a non-fictional, behind-the-scenes look at how Charles Berberian and Phillippe Dupuy create their Monsieur Jean comics. The two have an unusual relationship in that they both write and draw the books together, so it’s interesting to see their differences here as they write and draw separate journals. 

Berberian’s comics have a bouncier, more fun feel to them initially. He’s in rural France on a mini-book tour/holiday with his family, and recounts an amusing night when he goes to give a talk on comics and finds only the organiser and a couple waiting for him. The kids he was expecting to see went on a hike elsewhere and Dupuy’s car broke down so it’s just him and three others - and the couple only came for the free crepes! 

You can see what Berberian brings to the Jean comics with his flights of fantasy - he depicts himself as an alien when he explains to people his job as a full-time comics artist - and his love of buying books and records mirrors Jean’s own preoccupations. 

Dupuy’s contributions are different but equally fascinating. Rather than jump into stories, he shows us how he can’t quite get into the habit of writing these non-fiction comics about himself. He procrastinates, he talks about his jealousy of Berberian for how easily he took to the project, and generally there’s an soulful vulnerability to him in comparison to Berberian. 

Dupuy’s comics become more serious as the perspective shifts from Jean/Berberian to the death of his mother and the breakdown of his marriage. The “life in six panels” page for his mother was really beautiful, and Dupuy’s heartache over he and his wife’s growing distance, especially with their kid caught in the middle, is depicted with looser lines, to the point where he’s made up of wisps of ink on the page. 

I don’t want to make Dupuy out to be a drag though - some of the funniest panels are in his comics. When Dupuy’s writing the script for the new book, Jean appears in the seat next to him and the two have a matter-of-fact talk about where the series is going. Dupuy’s steepling of his hands as he raises his nose and says to Jean “Charles insisted...” is unexpectedly hilarious, as is the reappearance of the medieval knights from Get a Life, this time talking directly to Dupuy. 

And that’s the other surprising aspect to Maybe Later - their art styles. They’re both distinctly different but it’s easy to see the art of Jean in both of them. When you’re reading either artist’s comics, you think this style is predominantly Jean’s, but really somehow there’s this wonderful alchemy between the two where they come together to create the unique visual look of the Jean comics. This book’s art is sketchier than the Jean comics but are in no way poor quality. In fact, the lack of colour shows the skill in their line-work, even if it’s more free-flowing. 

The ready audience for this book would be fans of the Monsieur Jean comics but the quality of the work and the unexpected directions it goes in, supersedes just those readers. It still retains the wit and intelligence of that work but really anyone interested in great comics, whether or not they’ve read Jean, would enjoy this as it’s the story of two artists’ lives - their highs, their lows, a look into their psyches, and a fascinating glimpse into the creative process. 

As difficult as it is to create the comics they want and make a living from it, there’s a pureness to their love of their art that’s felt in their work and you can see that in every page of this book, and their other books, which is what makes them so good. Both Maybe Later and their other Drawn & Quarterly book, Get a Life, are highly recommended for readers looking for quality comics.

Maybe Later

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