by Maryse Dubuc & Marc Delafontaine
“Life is cruel. Deal with it.”
So reads the blurb on the back cover of this second volume of The Bellybuttons. And then Delaf & Dubuc go on, through 46 pages of stylish and funny cartooning, to show just how utterly cruel it can be.
The first volume of Bellybuttons followed a simple pattern:
“Jenny and Vicky are super-cute, super-catty girls who would do almost anything to be the centre of attention. The third wheel of the group is the too-tall, plain Karine. When a guy named Dan shows interest in Karine, Jenny and Vicky are appalled and will go to any length to thwart the competition.”
It did it with style and some panache, following the very bitchy goings on in the lives of these three teen girls, finding a lot of comedy in the simple setup.
And Bellybuttons Volume 2 delivers more of the same, but where there was cattiness and spite before, there’s now a venom in Jenny and Vicky’s increasingly inventive and/or desperate attempts to control and sabotage their naive lapdog’s life.
(Oh, it’s all fun and games playing grown ups until someone calls you on it. From the perfectly observed Bellybuttons by Delaf & Dubuc, published by Cinebook)
But there’s more going on than simply making it a nastier rehash of the funny, bitchy, jealous goings on here – the two-dimensional characters of the first book are given a little more substance now. The bullies are found to be shallow, empty, sad little children, desperate to be grown up (just not ready for it quite yet), desperate for attention and very much a product of bullying and neglect themselves; in Vicky’s case it’s from her over-bearing, distant and unloving parents and by her sister who treats Vicky just as Vicky treats poor Karine:
(Painful home truths about one of the bullies in Bellybuttons. Suddenly they’re not simple monsters anymore, just injured children. From Bellybuttons by Delaf & Dubuc, published by Cinebook)
This extra layer of terribly sad insight into the lives of the Bellybuttons characters is a clever switch up by Dubuc and Dulaf that turns a simple gag strip into something far better, something with more depth than it initially promised back at the end of volume 1. Funny, well drawn expressive cartooning, characters that ring (sadly) true, and an added element of pathos to complement and contrast to the silliness of some of the setups. The only question I have now is where’s it all going to go from here? I’ll be looking forward to volume 3 to find out.