The Song of Roland by Michel Rabagliati. BDANG, 2012. 9781894994613. 192pp.
Gene: Rabagliati is a Canadian cartoonist. This is part of a graphic novel series about a young man named Paul who grows up in Quebec and raises a family there. They are (I think) semi-autobiographical.
These books are beautiful because of Rabagliati’s cartooning and his style — his storytelling craft. And this (of the ones I’ve read so far) is the best of them, and it’s probably the most well known.
It begins in 1999, when Paul and his wife, Lucy, are on their way to see her parents and family. Her parents recently moved from Montreal to a place called Saint Nicholas, near Quebec City, where they used to have a summer cottage. And all of Lucy’s sisters are there, too. It’s a crazy, chaotic scene. Lucy’s dad calls his girls “rabbits” so his grandkids are all “little rabbits.”
Sarah: The art sort of reminds me of one of the cartoonists in Mad who drew in a really classic style. (I think I’m thinking of Dave Berg.)
G: It’s classically cartoony but somehow it’s way beyond that, too.
S: You can tell it’s being done by someone with lots of design skills, too.
G: Here’s Paul and his wife and their daughter brushing their teeth, getting ready to sleep in the basement. It’s the madness of a house full of people! Everyone is screaming. The boiler is making too much noise. The toilet’s overflowing. The details he chooses are perfect. Here they’re talking about how the city used to look, and there’s an image on the left page of how it is now and an image on the right page of how it used to look 30 years ago.
S: It’s like two overhead maps.
G: Her grandpa’s cabin and uncle’s cabin are near where Lucy’s parents’ house is now.
S: Canada is such a cottage cabin place. And look at all of the of above-ground pools!
G: Here’s a flashback of their grandpa. Lucy and her sisters are playing as little kids, and he’s trapped a raccoon. “He’s so cute!” And grandpa just walks out and blows it away.
G&S: (laughing) (Yes, we’re terrible people.)
G: …then he guts it, and the girls are screaming as he guts it. What a memory!
Here they’re playing Rummikub. And then back in the now they find out that Lucy’s dad has prostate cancer. And everyone’s lives go on.
S: Stepping on dog poop.
G: Paul and Lucy bought a dog for their daughter Rose. And then their backyard, they lay it out like a grid and they call the game they play, as they hunt for turds, Battleshit. “D-2!” That’s where the poop is.
The cancer storyline develops. When the family is gathering, Paul has to deal with old modem tech since it’s 1999 and he needs to get some design work done remotely. It’s a fun bit of nostalgia for those of us who lived through it. He buys a modem and software and finally a new computer because nothing works together. Remember those days?
S: Oh man, yes.
G: Here he is busting open a Pokemon pinata with a pick because none of the kids can break it.
Lucy’s dad is in and out of treatment…and then here’s the doc giving Lucy’s family bad news. Here’s a scene where everyone finds out he has three months to live, and it’s so sad and amazing. Lucy’s dad is still vital, then he’s a jerk when he finally goes into hospice, but then he calms down and redeems himself. The masterful thing to me is the way he wastes away…
S: The faces are really simple except when you can see that Lucy’s dad is losing weight.
G: And more Rummikub.
S: (whispering) My boyfriend Tom recently taught me how to play it.
G: (I can’t believe you said that out loud!) I hadn’t played that game for a long time, but I played on my recent visit to North Dakota with Carol (my grad school advisor) and her father’s second wife, Bernice.
It’s the details like Rummikub , the small moments that make this such an emotional book for me. And then the way the sisters go hang out and laugh together even at their dad’s hospice center. It reminds me of my grandmother and her much too long decline — we were lucky that she laughed right up until the end.