on 24 September 2014
Comics for the most part are a collaborative medium usually with one person writing, another drawing, another inking, colouring, lettering, and so on. Rarely do you find two people who work on a comic and do both the writing and drawing together, but such is the case with Charles Berberian and Phillippe Dupuy. In fact, their drawing/writing styles are so similar, they’ve said that even they have a hard time figuring out who did what in their comics!
Get a Life collects the first of their acclaimed and bestselling Monsieur Jean comics from 1989 to the early ‘90s, a time I only mention because you’ll notice that when people want to make a phone call outside they go to a phone box, and they can smoke indoors everywhere! Besides small details though, these comics are timeless and wonderful.
Jean is a young writer in Paris and we follow his travails with women, friends, his concierge (landlady), the everyday material mixed up with fantasy/dream sequences, comedy and a vivid, eye-catching art style. The stories are often entertaining and funny like when Jean looks after his friend’s cat and ends up arrested for suspected sex in a public park, or when he takes on a screenwriting job for an unscrupulous film producer and has to dodge mob enforcers.
But there’s some beautiful, slice of life stories here too that are quite poignant. Like when Jean realises he and his childhood friend have grown apart, or the time he recounts his first break-up, or the story where he battles his critical “dark side” who tries to convince him that his writing is as worthless as the critics say it is. There are also stories that apply to his age of late 20s/early 30s like trying to find a decent flat for a reasonable rent, seeing friends having kids of their own, and being nagged about marriage by his nearest and dearest (he’s something of a playboy).
The art is absolutely lush in true Gallic style - Jean has the same bulbous nose as the more famous French character, Asterix! Charming European architecture, the colours, and the settings: moonlit parties in apartments, lengthy meals in exotic restaurants, glamorous nightclubs, contrasted with smashed up flats, rainy nights, heartbreak, insomnia and food poisoning. Regardless of what they’re writing about, all of Dupuy and Berberian’s panels look amazing.
If you collect gorgeously produced comics, this is a great one to get. High quality, thick paper, excellent printing, well-designed - it’s a lovely object in itself. Full marks to Drawn & Quarterly! Also, if you love these comics and want more, check out the Drawn & Quarterly Anthologies Vols 3 and 5 for some lengthy 50+ page Monsieur Jean stories that follow the character as he ages, gets married, becomes a dad, etc. - they’re also really good!
I first bought/read this back in 2007 and, re-reading it 7 years later, it’s still as fantastic as I remembered. If you enjoy non-superhero comics and want to sample some of the best grown-up comics France has to offer, look no further than Dupuy & Berberian’s Get a Life. Funny, moving, romantic, enjoyable and totally compelling, Monsieur Jean is the best!