A genial and funny snapshot of the Left Bank lifestyle.

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GET A LIFE

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.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-896597-79-3

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2006

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An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

BERLIN

BOOK ONE

This black-and-white historical narrative, written and illustrated by Lutes, collects eight volumes of his ongoing comic book set in Berlin during the late ’20s. It’s a multilayered tale of love and politics at the beginning of the Nazi era, as Lutes follows the stories of three characters: a 20ish art student from the provinces, a textile worker, and a young Jewish radical. Their lives intersect in only the subtlest way—Lutes depicts them crossing paths at some great public events, such as the Mayday march that closes this part of his book. And Lutes plays with perspective in a visual sense as well, jumping from point-of-view frames to overhead angles, including one from a dirigible flying above in honor of the Kaiser. At street level, Lutes integrates his historical research smoothly, and cleverly evokes the sounds and smells of a city alive with public debate and private turmoil. The competing political factions include communists, socialists, democrats, nationalists, and fascists, and all of Lutes’s characters get swept up by events. Marthe, the beautiful art student, settles in with Kurt, the cynical and detached journalist; Gudrun, the factory worker, loses her job, and her nasty husband (to the Nazi party), then joins a communist cooperative with her young daughters; Schwartz, a teenager enamored with the memory of Rosa Luxembourg, balances his incipient politics with his religion at home and his passion for Houdini. The lesser figures seem fully realized as well, from the despotic art instructor to the reluctant street policeman. Cosmopolitan Berlin on the brink of disaster: Lutes captures the time and place with a historian’s precision and a cinematographer’s skill. His shifts from close-ups to fades work perfectly in his thin-line style, a crossbreed of dense-scene European comics and more simple comics styles on this side of the Atlantic.

An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-896597-29-7

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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