Oh, to be young, successful and neurotic.
For 20 years, French cartoonists Dupuy and Berberian have collaborated on “Mr. Jean,” a comic-book series about the romantic and professional ups and downs of a young Parisian novelist. Jean’s a moody, thoughtful sort, though his torments are actually pretty modest—a childhood buddy pesters him to help write a business proposal, he’d like to go to a party but can’t blow another deadline on a Somerset Maugham translation, the sexy girl he meets at the gym turns out to have a lot more baggage than he’d expected. It’s the stuff of good comedy, though, and Dupuy and Berberian get some nice laughs out of these tiny predicaments; a series of two-page gags chronicling Jean’s recurring insomnia make great use of (among other things) lusty hippos, a one-night stand and an ill-advised late-night bath. But it’d be unfair to characterize the two as mere gag writers, and the best stories here are broader and more emotionally complex. In “Cathy (Norvegienne Woude),” Jean recalls a botched early relationship derailed by deception and youthful selfishness, and the two artists take care with the details, from the rain-soaked scenes to the way Jean is drawn larger or smaller to match his insecurity. In “Wild Days of Youth,” Jean juggles a host of frustrations—his rent just got doubled, an elderly neighbor’s tried to kill himself and a friend’s left his toddler at his apartment—and the story manages to be an affecting portrait of the cycle of life while staying light on its feet. The art is clean and nicely propulsive; if Dupuy and Berberian were film directors they’d be big on sinuous, graceful tracking shots. And Jean is a perfect character for their style: Just turning 30, he’s at a carefree midpoint in life, holding fast to his youth but well aware of the waves of adult responsibility about to crash down on him.
A genial and funny snapshot of the Left Bank lifestyle.