nicolas by pascal girard. Translated by Helge Dascher. Drawn & Quarterly, 2016. 9781770462625.
French-Canadian Gigard (Petty Theft, Bigfoot) is an amazing cartoonist, but I’d never seen this, his first graphic novel. According to the introduction, it was drawn in a three day period in 2006, and inspired by Jeffrey Brown’s AEIOU. (This edition includes a new, follow-up story.)
I love how raw the story is, both emotionally and in terms of how quickly it was drawn. The original tells the story of Nicolas, Girard’s younger brother, who died when he was a boy. It’s a simple series of moments that don’t usually last more than a page or two. They alternate between Girard playing with his brother (Ghostbusters!) and Girard after his death. The latter show how strange it is to be a kid in that situation as adults awkwardly try to offer comfort and parents burst into tears at Christmas. Then the book explores how Nicolas remains a presence in Girard’s life up to and including now, with a focus (especially in the new part) on how it affects his relationship with his younger brother, Joël.
It’s a tough read, but the way it’s told in vignettes makes it easier than Tom Hart’s amazing graphic memoir about the death of his daughter, Rosalie Lightning (though that book had moments of joy, too). And it’s a great way to see how Girard’s style has developed over the last 10 years — his drawings go back and forth between very realistic and a kind of comics impressionism in which lines never quite meet.