Page 45 Review by Stephen
"What you are doing is pointless."
What Simon is doing is nothing.
Well, he is teaching and that's not nothing: it's the most important job in the world. He's empowering his young students in multiple ways by showing them that they can draw!
Simon used to draw.
He drew graphic novels which drew critical acclaim but which he didn't like, and which brought him neither the solace of money nor fame. Critical acclaim can be small comfort if it's material reward that you're after.
He has a beautiful, brightly spirited, understanding and encouraging girlfriend called Claire with whom he shares a fairly idyllic townhouse. It's reasonably rustic even if it's rented. He probably should mow the lawn occasionally, if only he could be bothered. But swinging idly in a hammock's much easier. He should probably converse with Claire... if he only could be bothered. But that would mean making some effort. He should probably create once again, as his therapist encourages. But he really cannot be bothered.
"It's not writer's block. I just don't feel like it, that's all."
Simon doesn't feel like it.
He won't even pick up the phone to ask for a loan from his Dad in Paris. His Dad called Jean is really quite wealthy, you know. Then Claire and Simon could buy a house, save on the escalating rent and not need to borrow at exorbitant interest from the bank.
"I don't get it."
"There's nothing to get. I just don't feel like it."
Understandably, Claire feels frustrated. Inertia, inaction, it's driving her to distraction, because Simon is simultaneously treading water and drowning.
That's beautifully evoked in the art, and not just during the swimming-pool sequence in which Simon only just comes up in time for air. The first several dozen pages are suffocating under drab, murky, energy-sapping olives and tans. When waiting for his father in Paris, Simon is overwhelmed - like the panels themselves - by the cacophonous crowd-chatter in French.
Fast-forward to Lisbon in Portugal to which Simon is invited, as part of a Comics Festival, on the basis of those very graphic novels which he so dismisses. The streets are still densely populated by pedestrians, but because he doesn't understand Portuguese, the irritating chatter becomes mellifluous music instead, its speech balloons floating soothingly into one ear then out the other.
It's something that's picked up later on.
"A few words in broken English... hand gestures occasionally emphasised with a smile or a raised eyebrow. This basic language, stripped to the essentials, as frustrating as it is, helps us reveal nothing but the best in us.
"The tiny signs that, in a mother tongue, betray stupidity or jealousy no longer exist here.
"I see only their smiles."
I've never read that posited before: that the nuances of one own native tongue can carry loaded connotations - subtle, deliberate or accidental implications; or inferences perceived either rightly or wrongly - whereas a foreign language, struggled with, conveys only the direct, unsullied bare-bones.
And look what happens to the art!
Like Fumio Obata's JUST SO HAPPENS, in Portugal the human forms too glide like softened, ethereal ghosts, the buildings, steps and walkways warp as if underwater, and the colours immediately warm then ignite, especially on the sea-front itself! He's surrounded by enthusiasm, energy and laughter.
This is Simon Muchat's first time in Portugal for 20 years. It's where his family originated from. He's never been back as an adult. Indeed, he's felt so distant from his family there that he almost refused a Wedding Invitation from his Portuguese cousin who's marrying a bloke from a vineyard family in Burgundy. Both you and he will be so bloody glad that he didn't, as will his Dad.
Because here's the big thing: you may think that you have a problem with some parts of your family (weddings and funerals can be the worst), but do you ever consider that the generation above you might have even more issues dividing them?
Expansive, autobiographical excellence from the creator of EQUINOXES (whose multiple perspectives help render it one of the most successfully complex, thought-provoking graphic novels alongside Scott McCloud's THE SCULPTOR, Glyn Dillon's THE NAO OF BROWN plus Moon and Ba's DAYTRIPPER), the second section here will mean so much to those who have found family reunions to be either terrifying, enlightening or both.
This turns out to be an absolute blessing, though not in the most obvious or immediate of ways. There's an early car journey in which the traditional family silence is perpetuated by Simon (already reticent), his dad and his dad's brother. Simon doesn't realise that it's a silence stilled for a great deal longer than he has been on the scene. Nearly 20 years separates his father, Jean, and his older uncle, Jacques, and it's only when their more impetuous middle sister Yvette gets rolling that they start to rock. She may be sixty now but Yvette has lost none of her mildly iconoclastic but never divisive drive. She's a catalyst for conversation, a moderator in reasoned perspective and a reminder of what is important. Good manners only get in the way: good will is what's important.
Like Pedrosa's EQUINOXES this is sumptuous with a central Burgundy vineyard which will make you swoon with bucolic jealousy. It's not without its problems like cattle coming in across the water when they shouldn't, or freezers spluttering then dying, leaving meat to rot when it's supposed to be feeding the proverbial five thousand. But each of these instances will coerce those who may have lost the capacity to cooperate to do so again, then share their past.
It's an enormous wedding party spread over a very long weekend, but much more informal than most as guests split themselves up into groups and do their own thing. You'll hear snatches of background conversation and so feel that you're there, rather than simply seeing what's staged.
This is a book of the past According to Simon, According to Jean, then According to their ultimate patriarch, Abel: three male generations of the Muchat family which initially held little interest for Simon, but whose migratory past he soon finds so fascinating that he is later compelled to... well, you'll see.
Anyone who can speak Portuguese is going to enjoy a fifth more than most because so much of this is deliberately left untranslated, as much a mystery to me as it was to Simon. I like that!