I’m beginning to think the French have cornered the market on memoir humor graphic novels. While I doubt I’m the intended audience for Margaux Motin’s But I Really Wanted to Be an Anthropologist…, I couldn’t help but be drawn in by her observations the same way that Lewis Trondheim drew me into his Little Nothings.
Motin, a free-lance illustrator in France, has collected the musings and art from her illustrated blog into a surprisingly coherent work. She is irreverent and outspoken and not afraid to discuss any topic from fashion, to child rearing, to potty humor, to sex and her obsession with the small size of her bustline. She pulls no punches, using earthy language (assuming the translator Edward Gauvin is faithful) that fits the moment and sounds totally believable. By the end of her book the reader has a full understanding of who Motin is and how she thinks, and most likely would love to have a drink with her.
The book is not a straight narrative, but presented as it surely appeared on her blog, in simple one- to three-page observations and vignettes. Like Trondhheim’s work, Motin doesn’t try for the standard gag joke, instead letting the observation or humorous situation stand on its own. That’s not to say she doesn’t include both jokes and visual gags, more that they arrive naturally from the situations she describes than through any sort of insistence on telling a pat joke.
Artwise, Motin has a distinctly feminine line, which is sexy and endearing at the same time. She keeps the art simple, outlining the shapes of her figures with no shading or cross hatching, which suits her style perfectly. Then she adds spot colors all against a minimalist background which bleeds into white, giving the whole book an open and airy look. Her figure-drawing shines, for while it is simplified and slightly cartoonish, it also recalls fashion illustration. Even when she depicts herself waking up in the morning at her most ungainly, there is still no doubt this is a woman’s tale and a woman telling it.
With the wonderful art you also get little slice-of-life moments between Motin and her daughter, her husband, her friends, his friends, and her sister, that ring incredibly true. Motin realizes that the ordinary doesn’t mean the boring. I found myself nodding and grinning at not only her own wit, but that of her husband as he catches her in a silly moment. She has the courage to show herself, warts-and-all, which endears her to the reader and makes them feel like they know the person behind the drawings. As I said, I’m most likely not her intended audience, but I must admit I felt like I had a schoolboy crush on her by the time I’d turned the last page. I can’t imagine that female readers wouldn’t find a kindred spirit and recognize at least a few things from their own lives.
But I Really Wanted to Be an Anthropologist… should definitely be shelved on the adult shelves for its dialogue and sometimes scatological subject matter. It finds a happy balance between frivolous coffee table book and slice-of-life memoir. It’s not a deep read, and some would say it is fluff. But it’s delightful fluff all the same.