Page 45 Review by Stephen
In which Belgian cartoonist Dominique Goblet turns autobiographical comics into an extreme sport.
Dominique's daughter Nikita wants to draw with coloured crayons while the grown-ups talk.
It's all a little alien to her because she's never met her moustachioed grandfather before. You remember what it was like when you're in a strange new room with odd old people and they're all immediately arguing about semantics as you do when you haven't seen each other in four years.
Proudly, Nikita shows off her picture to her grandfather's strange new missus:
"Here, see her hair... that's my friend!!!"
"Ah, does your friend have long hair?"
"Well no, why?"
"You just said that it's your friend and that she has long hair!!"
"Ha, hope, it's just a character!"
Kids, eh? Don't we love to indulge their whimsical ways? Mum's certainly smiling.
"Hey, Nikita, Blandine is right, you said that it was -"
"Yeah well sure, but that was just for pretend!"
Pretend, see? Nikita dances gleefully around the room in her pretty floral dress, ever so pleased with herself. And you'd have thought that would have been the end the matter, all adults charmed by innocent jest.
But elderly, ghoul-faced Blandine sees things a little differently, towering over Nikita and gesticulating wildly like a demonic puppet on maniacally lurching strings, her shrieks of rage blotting out almost everything behind them:
"Well, then you are a LIAR!"
"PRETENDING IS LYING
"PRETENDING IS LYING!"
So that's one way to handle a family reunion.
You're on page 22. If fractious is your idea of fun then you've come to the right place: a graphic memoir of quarrels with several such expressionistic flourishes, Dominique's blustering, boastful buffalo of Dad depicted during one of his many moments of deluded self-martyrdom as a boss-eyed, beatific saint complete with Byzantine halo, his hand raised in blessing on a page of illuminated manuscript.
"I gave you everything I did everything for you!
"I worked like a slave!! Day and night... did everything!! All... All for the two of you!"
He pours himself another glass of wine. (He doesn't drink anymore. No, not a drop! I can't think why his wife left him.)
"Well, true, or false?"
He's full of these proclamations, these ultimatums to respond, and belittling nick-names for a daughter who remains astonishingly devoted, responding to his bullying tirades with surprising equanimity. I almost expected him to declare his daughter "FAKE NEWS".
By contrast the book is introduced with an enchanting four-page prologue told in smudged puce biro. In it young Nikske (Dominique) is skipping down the road, heedless of her mother's cautionary words. The child trips over and bursts into tears not on account of her grazed knees but the holes in her stockings. Her mother smiles, reassuringly.
"It's not the end of the world, look, I'm going to fix them!"
She scrunches the stockings into a ball then rolls them around in her hand before dressing Dominique back in them. Lo and behold, the holes have gone, and the child looks up, wide-eyed into her mum's smiling face! Her thoughts float from her head, all wobbly with wonder:
"She... she can do magic..."
It had me totally taken in too: over the page on the final panel, we see that her mum had merely popped the stockings on back-to-front.
There's a more sobering side to her mother recalled later on which also involves laundry but a lot less love. All I will say is that the irritable tension in the claustrophobic confines of the sitting room is exceptionally well built by noise: the rain tapping incessantly on the window, the click-clack of scissors, the tak-tak of tiny, restless feet under the table top and the roar of racing cars growling from the television set as Dominique's Dad lies prostrate on the sofa, drinking and smoking and taking fuck-all notice of the escalating domestic crisis right in front of him.
He's not the only liar in Dominique's life. Wait until you meet her boyfriend!
Unlike Thi Bui's THE BEST WE COULD DO carefully considered exploration of her parents' past in order to understand them, this is like an exorcism of ghosts which certainly deserve a good banishing (one hovers all around her boyfriend in soft spectral white on the dense, graphite pages), and although it's expressionistic style isn't going to appeal to everyone, I couldn't imagine it so successfully done in any other way.