In her review of You, Me and Dupree at The New York Times, Manohla Dargis notes the peculiar cinematic fondness for thirty-ish men who refuse to grow up. Film (and comics) can be “a virtual playpen for legions of slobbering big babies for whom Peter Pan isn’t a syndrome but a way of life,” as Dargis puts it.
One of the things that makes Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian’s Get a Life (Drawn & Quarterly) such a pleasure is that it isn’t about growing up so much as getting older. Mr. Jean, their endearingly average, slightly dyspeptic protagonist, is hovering around thirty, and he isn’t entirely happy about it.
But he isn’t obsessed with it or terrified by the prospect. He’s got a reasonable amount of success at work. His personal life isn’t a wasteland; he’s got friends and romantic companionship. If life isn’t perfect and a major milestone of years is looming, things could certainly be worse. In other words, Mr. Jean is in an age-appropriate place, and that’s refreshing.
Dupuy and Berberian, who divide their duties as creators equally, strike a wonderfully balanced tone in their stories. They’re witty without ever becoming arch and warm without being cloying. As Mr. Jean moves through the highs and lows of everyday life, he encounters friends, family, and neighbors who all provide distinct comforts and frustrations. Chance encounters trigger memories that can be both painful and nostalgic. Each story is a snapshot of a life that feels very real.
The illustrations are very much of a piece with the stories. Character designs are funny and charming but not too exaggerated. Mr. Jean’s body language works particularly well, attuned to all of his many moods. He can be slumped with defeat or exhaustion, rigid with frustration, and even (rarely) comfortably at ease with the way his life is going.
It’s a tremendously comforting comic. The stories are funny, moving glimpses of the everyday. If I were to quibble with anything, it would be the title. I’d say that Mr. Jean already has a life, and an appealingly grown-up one. But it can be hard to see that while you’re busy living it.