The past year or so has seen many great Canadian graphic novels published: Seth’s fantastic George Sprott (1894 – 1975); Jeff Lemire’s inventive post-apocalyptic Sweet Tooth; Kathryn and Stuart Immonen’s intriguing Moving Pictures; and let’s not forget the Canadian rock star of comics, Bryan Lee O’Malley, and the last installment of his Scott Pilgrim vs. the World series, which is also coming to theatres. I think it’s fair to argue we are in the middle of a big enough groundswell of talent and output to look back and re-examine the works of a few old and new masters.
One such book, Line Gamache’s Hello, Me Pretty, was published by Conundrum Press in May 2007 as the first title in their (then) new BDang! imprint, which specializes in bringing French Canadian books to an English Canadian readership. Originally published as Te Malade, Toi! for top-notch Quebec publisher Les 400 coups in 2005, Hello, Me Pretty is a sensitive, naïve story of growing up with Josée, the author’s developmentally delayed younger sister.
Three things stand out in Hello, Me Pretty: the wonderfully engaging art; the acceptance of Gamache’s eternally optimistic view, which looks past the pain of Joseé’s disability; and the placement of the story within Francophone Montreal of the 1960s and ’70s. The art is very detailed. The two-dimentional primitive drawings depict the subtlest details in each scene, bringing them to our attention as only this kind of art can. Bold lines, almost as if from a lino-block, make simple, bold statements about the story’s place and time. This simple organically lends itself to our understanding of how Jossée perceives the world—she is eternally happy, if forever in the present and, despite some bad experiences (being hit by a car, the eventual loss of her mother), she never shuts herself down.
Josée has a very limited vocabulary, which is where the title comes in—her first and favourite word is “Hello,” which she repeats constantly. Later, after she applies makeup very freely over the course of many hours, Josée declare how much she likes herself—”Me pretty,” she says over and over.
The narrator’s main message lies in the characterization of his sister as a “little angel” whose presence in the family and the community draws people together and reminds them to cultivate their own positive energy. However, the actual challenges and problems of having a child such as Jossée are glossed over, and I believe some meat may be lost from the bone at times.
A few recent other titles to keep in mind when looking for some summer reading are Drawn and Quarterly’s wonderful John Stanley retrospective, Thirteen Going on Eighteen and their Walt And Skeezix collection and classic Red Snow translation. In terms of newer talent coming down the pipe, such artists as Michael DeForge, who won a Doug Wright Award for his head-spinning Lose, and Ethan Rilly, who won the Gene Day Award for his wonderfully down-to-earth Pope Hats, are real winners.