I’ve had a real soft spot for former Angoulême grand prix alumni Dupuy and Berberian for some years. Encouraged by the writings of our own Continental Correspondent Wim I’ve really enjoyed the unusual partnership and the work it has produced (unusual in that usually a duo in comics is a writer and an artist, but with here both are writers and artists so the work is a real collaboration created almost by a gestalt entity). I’ve even had a go at their work in French when I had the opportunity to pick up brand new releases on holiday (my French isn’t great, but it was passable enough for this, with the added help of pictures for context – a great aid for someone with rusty Francophone skills). Drawn & Quarterly has published some of Dupuy and Berberian’s collections in English before, but this time round it is the nice folks at Humanoids who have kindly brought us a very welcome, first time in English translation, collection, The Singles Theory.
This collection is a bit odd, chronologically speaking, fitting in between some of the previously published English translated volumes, bringing together a number of shorts that for some reason haven’t been collected and published before in English. Our writer (or should we say now writer with writer’s block, following some medium success with earlier work) continues to move on from youth into those decades where a chap starts to wonder where he is going, what it is all about, where he maybe went wrong, why others seem to be handling this life thing better than me (they aren’t, it just seems like it to everyone else), while also worrying about his former literary success being a flash in the pan (writer’s block is exerting it’s awful python like grip on his imagination), he’s having anxiety dreams where a trio of gangsters stand around him commenting and threatening, and his friend Felix is crashing at his apartment for an extended ‘short stay’, once again between relationships, decrying all women as fallible and the cause of all men’s misery, while, naturally, still immediately trying to impress any attractive woman who walks past him.
Here we have a pleasant stroll through the increasing early middle aged angst of a middle class artist’s life; in many ways I think Dupuy and Berberian’s Monsieur Jean stories are the comics equivalent of a good Woody Allen film, and that may be one of the reasons why I enjoy them so much. As with real life most of what happens here isn’t lfe-shattering, epic events, it’s the day to day stuff – trying to get out of town to a quite country retreat to encourage his writing and a little romantic private time with his girlfriend is thwarted by the in-laws still being at the holiday home and energetically renovating it (noisily), plus the arrival of more family friends (you can almost hear a Woody Allen style monologue about stress and his need to have peace to write). His agent arranges a television interview – Jean is nervous but it could be good exposure for him, until in the set up for the piece the interviewer first of all tells him he hasn’t read his book, just got an assistant to give him notes (many writer friends tell me this is sadly common in the media interviews, there are only a few interviewers they really rate who actually read the work and think about the questions arising from it), then compounds this by telling him the main thrust of the television piece is about writer’s who have a hit then stall on their follow up work. Just what you need when you are already insecure about your writing career and success …
A birthday party is arranged in the countryside leading to all sorts of extended family and friend problems and misunderstandings (and again, sorry to repeat the analogy, I can just feel this as a French Woody Allen scenario), Felix gets trapped in a lift, a woman hears him call for help and this love-is-misery man falls into wild fantasies about who the unseen woman is and how romance might bloom when he is freed from the errant lift (you can imagine the pin coming to burst that dream bubble), dreaming of a sweeping love-of-his-life romance with a woman he hasn’t even seen and may not even meet. Naturally a little later he is back to his ranting about how women are the cause of all his troubles, of course! That’s one of the joys about Monsieur Jean though, the seemingly simple ease with which Dupuy and Berberian capture those little daydream scenarios that, let’s be honest, we all have – perhaps not as fantastically as Felix in the lift, but we all have them, they help us get through the day, so it’s very easy to identify with these sequences even though we are laughing at his ridiculous wish fulfilment dreams.
It’s a pleasant and gently comedic (with occasional more downbeat scene) stroll through the life of Jean and friends as they get older and ponder where they are in their lives and where they should be going – and if they even have any real say in where it is they are going (don’t we all wonder that?). As always with Dupuy and Berberian it’s a pleasure to read, you feel drawn into the characters lives, the little follies, the small pleasures and the humour that everyday life often throws, not to mention the inevitable appearance of The Absurd, which likes to rear its head in most of our lives (a story with very noisy neighbour sex involving a toaster is perfectly handled, especially the seeing those naughty neighbours on the stairwell next morning scenes, the polite “good morning” while thinking “what the hell were you two up to in ned last night? And what was he doing with the toaster? Like Bill Murray’s manipulation of kitchen utensils in Stripes we may never know how that worked, but clearly it did). It’s good to have this previously missing gap in the English editions of Monsieur Jean filled if you follow the series, but even if you are new to it then this collection of short works can also be pretty much enjoyed on it’s own and work as a decent introduction. Hugely recommended – every collection needs some Dupuy and Berberian.