From the stack: Maybe Later

November 21, 2007

I think I’m impossibly picky about autobiographical comics. I tend to resist them when the creators give their lives too much of a narrative arc, because it always strikes me as kind of fishy, but I also don’t like to feel like my time has been wasted with meandering, disconnected episodes. Self-deprecation is always welcome, but not at the expense of some core of sincerity and self-expression. And introspection is appreciated, as long as nobody loses perspective.

At the same time, I’m reluctant to sit down and say, “I’m sorry, but your life is just kind of dreary,” or “You really don’t tell your own story very well.” I mean, how awful is that? (I realize that it’s an artificial distinction, because surely creators care at least as much about their fictional constructs, and I have no problem digging into the strengths and weaknesses of made-up stories. Still…)

I’m also fairly results-oriented. I’m not especially interested in the creative process as I am the creative product. I tend to edge towards the door when people start talking about “the work” or “the process,” and I think there’s probably a circle of hell devoted to nothing but repeated airings of Inside the Actors Studio.

But I was really taken with Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian’s Get a Life, Drawn & Quarterly’s collection of their Mr. Jean stories. So I put Maybe Later, Dupuy and Berberian’s comic journals of the creation of a volume of Mr. Jean stories, on my wish list, and someone was kind enough to send it to me.

Alternating chunks of chapters from Dupuy and Berberian, who take an entirely collaborative approach to Mr. Jean, skirt most of my autobiography aversions. D&Q’s cover text warns that, “Above all, it’s about the creative process,” which should have had me running in the opposite direction, but my faith in the creators’ companionable charm was rewarded.

I don’t know that I’m any more informed on the actual process of creating Mr. Jean, but it’s good fun to read Maybe Later and speculate as to how the creators’ individual personalities intersect in their shared fictional creation. Berberian takes a lighter, more caustic approach to his journal entries, though he does sneak in thoughtful, amusingly framed bits on why creative people create. (They end up involving archers, divers, and the Dynamic Duo. It’s weird, but it works.)

Dupuy is more of an introspective bent. He’s got marriage problems, health problems, work problems, depression and insecurity. (He’s even a bit undone by the finished quality of Berberian’s early contributions to the journal.) His chapters are more serious and sincere, but they stop short of being mopey. It’s hard to explain, but I think if you added Berberian and Dupuy together and divided by two, you’d get Jean. I’m sure the reality is nowhere near that simple, but I like the idea all the same.

And their disconnected approaches actually end up being mutually supportive. Dupuy’s darker musings balance Berberian’s sharper, more satirical bent. I can’t really decide which I liked better, because they’re so distinct, but they flow together quite nicely.

It’s not a finished narrative by any means, but the episodes and the reflections do accumulate into something that stands on its own. I liked it quite a bit.