by Marc Delafontaine and Maryse Dubuc
“Life is cruel. Deal with it.”
That’s what it says on the back of each Bellybuttons volume. And it’s so true. Especially here in the world of high school girl politics.
I’ve already looked at Volume 1 and Volume 2 of Bellybuttons here on the blog. And volume 3 carries on all of the gags and themes of the series. It’s more of the same, but where the same is funny and clever and rather well observed, it doesn’t really matter too much.
Karine (the tall, geeky nice one) still finds herself in the middle of the ongoing struggle for superiority between the two bitchy, pretty ones; Jenny & Vicky as they seemingly compete to see who can use and abuse their friendship more. And now the simmering enmity between Jenny and Vicky escalates into all out war as they battle over pursuit of motorbike riding, permanently helmeted John John.
And even though Vicky spends most of her time in a wheelchair recovering from injuries received in volume 2, it doesn’t stop her tireless pursuit of John John, and when that seems to be in vain she switches to hunky new basketball player Godfrey:
Right at the end of this volume, we find out that both leading men are not what the girls think they are. You might see Godfrey’s “secret” a mile off, but the reason John John keeps the helmet on all the time? That you’ll never guess.
As always, Karine is there because she’s just the sort of friend these alpha-girls like to keep around to reinforce their dominance, but Karine, poor Karine, will never realise. Things are worse than ever now that she almost has a chance at breaking out from their abusive relationship, as she’s now sort of going out with the too nice for words Dan. Poor things, there’s no way they’re going to be able to stay together with Karine’s “friends” looking out for her.
The real cleverness in Bellybuttons isn’t really in the acid-tinged humour or the slapstick situations, it’s in the character studies that give the whole thing a horrible sadness. These are three young girls, and none of them have an easy time of it. Karine’s sadness is easy to see, coming as it does from the continual demands and horrendous treatment at the hands of her so called friends.
Dan puts it so well in the last couple of panels here:
But Delaf and Dubuc aren’t content to simply paint this as a tale of good versus evil, and don’t just spend every strip concentrating on Karine’s put upon life. They never forget that, as horrible as Jenny and Vicky are, there must be some reason for it. Instead we get a rounded, true to life sets of characters, each one a damaged child.
Last volume we saw it from Vicky’s point of view, and here we have one page where we get to see some more of Jenny’s awful homelife. There’s a terrible sadness in their lives that goes partway to explaining why they’re as nasty as they are. And it makes the comedy all the sharper with this extra layer.
Bellybuttons is cruel, heartless and often downright nasty, but it never forgets to be funny and often manages to be remarkably sad and full of pathos.
Sure, you might be laughing, but you’re wincing at the situations as well. And at it’s best, it’s actually quite moving. Add in Delaf’s over the top caricatures and Bellybuttons ends up an impressive read.