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Suddenly Something Happened
posted December 6, 2010
Conundrum Press, softcover, 256 pages, November 2010, $20
I'm not sure if it's on purpose, but this Conundrum Press English-language collection of the autobiographical comics of Mechanique Generale's Jimmy Beaulieu may be the most aptly-named trade in the history of North American publishing. While the cartooning is always at least engaging and at times proves extremely affecting with its depiction of young urban life and the landscapes encountered by the author between Quebec City and Montreal, it's also at times a significant bore, eliding over particulars of the author's life as lived for I think a more general, romantic stab at the feel and flow of his state of existence. If it was intended as a tone poem, it never quite coheres. Instead, it seems like the author is creating a mostly self-flattering portrait of someone failing to reach his own potential, surrounded by character types rather than living and breathing characters, mostly idealized women very hard to tell one from the other except in the various ways they thwart the character's immediate desires and legitimize his underneath-it-all awesomeness.
I was planning to quit reading the book, in fact, despite the obvious skill inherent within the scene work and the pleasing art work overall, when, well, cue the title. An extended meditation on his own childhood shakes Beaulieu from the hazy self-regard of the opening collection of scenes. What distinguishes this section of the book is that it's filled with strongly idiosyncratic life moments, scenes in service of an underlying theme that suggests fragments of same are all that remain as we get older. Further, the cartoonist resists the temptation to come to an easy conclusion concerning those relationships and their impact on his state of mind at the time or currently. Those moments -- those people -- have a life beyond the narrator. It feels like a breakthrough in that when we return to stories set in the author's current life there's a carry-over in terms of focus. The lack of particulars when it comes to relationships and his work experience hasn't changed all that much, but Beaulieu's ability to focus on foregrounded elements and our trust in him that he does see people in their fractured complications beyond himself, allows us insight to the way certain people and work relationships function in the author's life. Like the kick turn that allows a championship swimmer to thunder down the length of the pool without changing the basics of his stroke, that middle section of Suddenly Something Happened
provides Beaulieu with an energy that forces the reader from their seat. It's a strong document in a small literature describing the subtle ways in which we all quietly grow up.