I was excited to pick up Dupuy & Berberian‘s latest hardbound comic book The Singles Theory – available in English in the U.S. for the first time this week. I confess that I am a huge fan of Monsieur Jean – a sort of urban French everyman comic book protagonist – created by Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian.
Monsieur Jean a comic book about a fairly ordinary guy, Jean, who’s a writer living in the city of Paris. He pals around with his friends, procrastinates, falls in and out of love, gets a whiff of fame now and then. His friend Felix is a sort of passionate smart loser, who becomes a single dad. His friend Clement is a sort of stuffy success.
It’s not incredibly deep, nor does it push a lot of boundaries; Jean is a yuppie dealing with Problems White Men Face. Nonetheless, it’s very funny, often in an ironic way. Few books make me laugh out loud as often as Monsieur Jean does. It’s well-paced, beautifully and very simply drawn. It’s urban; everyone walks and takes trains all the time. I can relate to Jean’s successes, frustrations, hopes, and foibles. It’s a comic about the way single men in their 30’s look at life, relationships, success, hope, etc.
If you’ve never read Dupuy and Berberian, The Singles Theory is very accessible, but perhaps not the greatest thing that they’ve done. For new readers, the best entry point would be Get a Life. Also recommended are Maybe Later (a autobio comic largely about how Dupuy and Berberian create Jean) and Dupuy’s very simple very rich personal solo autobio comic Haunted (I need to do a blog post about Haunted – I highly recommend it.) There are also a few excellent long Jean stories in Drawn and Quarterly anthologies from ten years ago. I get the sense that a lot of Monsieur Jean material is still out there, unreleased in English.
Dupuy and Berberian both do writing and art – which is unusual for comics collaborators; their process is described somewhat in Maybe Later. For me, their images are pretty much exactly what comics should be. They’re simple, and very expressive. Just enough detail, but not too much. They appear fairly spontaneous and loose, but I sure know that they’ve probably been labored over to hone them into that simplicity. Their images of cities – mainly of Paris – are excellent: seemingly loose, but definitely a specific not a generic place.
The Singles Theory is a series of short comics, with mainly Jean and Felix making their way through their lives. Felix and his young son Eugene have moved in with Jean. Jean is beginning to spend time with his love interest Cathy – an, unfortunately, underdeveloped character in this volume (later on she gets a bit more fleshed out in the longer D&Q stories.) There’s a sweet tension between Felix, who’s kind of a lovable complainer loudmouth, and Jean, who’s more restrained and more introspective.
A lot of the stories have an arc pertaining to how life – relationships, expectations, etc. – doesn’t turn out how one expects… but is nonetheless rich and wonderful. Getting away to the country sounds so great when we anticipate it, but then, in many ways, the real trip doesn’t quite live up to how bucolic we’ve been picturing it.
My favorite story in The Singles Theory is one where Felix gets trapped on a broken elevator.
Felix overhears the voice of a woman who going to help him, and then launches into a flight of fantasy over how this woman, whom he’s never seen, is his soul mate. Check out the wonderful expressions on his face over the course of the panels above. It’s that simplicity with expressiveness I wrote about above.
The elevator story is laugh-out-loud funny and the ending is surprising and poignant. And I can relate… how often have I met someone and spun off our fantastic future in my head? The future, of course, has other ideas.
Pet-lovers may not enjoy Jean Gets Some Fresh Air as much as I did. The story is about Jean and Cathy bonding and supporting each other, also about Jean working through creative blocks, as well as a sort of city-country story arc. Central to it is a really loud little dog who, along with its owners, is on the receiving end of a lot the humor. I laughed and laughed. What I love in the Monsieur Jean books is that I laugh at the humor over and over – even on subsequent readings, when I know the joke is coming, I laugh in anticipation of it.
I highly recommend The Singles Theory. It’s been a treat to reacquaint myself with Jean and Felix. I am hoping that I don’t have to wait tooooo long before their creators’ work gets across the Atlantic Ocean again.