Girl on Film: A graphic novel memoir

I found this memoir a pleasure to read, easy to digest and an insightful candid look at the growth of the author from her early experiences as teenager in New York City in the 1980s through to adulthood. Author Cecil Castellucci, an award-winning young adult novelist and comic book writer, aspired to be an award-winning film maker. The memoir recounts her early experiences as she follows her artistic and definite dreams and popular culture influences. The fact that she eventually succeeds in her telling stories in a different type of visual format is only alluded to but not the focus of the memoir itself. Along the way we meet numerous celebrities who intersect her path, such as Andy Warhol and Cher. We also meet good friends, childhood crushes, and a variety of muses.

This reviewer particularly appreciated Castellucci’s reflections on the act of memory and the way it shapes our self knowledge and on the power of stories: how they are molded through our memories and how people are fashioned by the stories/memories they tell about themselves. Her ongoing contemporary conversations with her father, Vincent F. Castellucci, a neuroscientist who specializes in the formation of memories, ground the adult author (and the reader) as she worked to create the memoir of her younger self. The positive relationship Castellucci has with both of her supportive parents is refreshing and inspiring, demonstrating how mutual love and support can contribute to success, regardless of the field of study.

The memoir engages the talents of four separate illustrators, a constructional element that does not distract from the unified whole of the novel. Each of the artists employ their own style on specific periods of Castellucci’s life, bringing each era to life with background details, contemporary hair and clothing styles, and the richness of facial expressions as Castellucci moves from a pre-teen through adulthood both in the Montreal of her home and New York of her schooling dreams. The book is constructed in the four distinct parts, each reflecting different story elements of the author’s life: childhood, young adult, college age, and the study of memory. Melissa Duffy’s insightful and energetic illustrations successfully illustrate the melodrama of the pre-teen years. V. Gagnon is charged with bringing Castellucci’s teenage years to life and Jon Berg, with the time spent in college and traveling abroad. Vicky Leta quietly and meditatively reflects the adult Cecil and the conversations with her parents as she constructs this memoir with pastel colours and unadorned backgrounds. The colour palate of all four illustrators effectively guide the reader through the drama, mood, and era of each segment of the author’s story.

Highly recommended for young adult readers even though the book is marketed as an adult title.

Girl on Film: A graphic novel memoir
By Cecil Castellucci
Art by Vicky Leta, Jon Berg, Melissa Duffy, V. Gagnon
ISBN: 9781684154531
Archaia, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

Idle Days

The Canadian creators of this graphic novel consider it first and foremost a ghost story. I do too, but not a usual rendering of a ghost tale beyond the haunted cabin in the spooky and remote woods and the deterioration of the protagonist’s grip on reality. At times stark and at others, extremely poetic, Idle Days is an anomaly, a steady-paced historical slice-of-life-style graphic novel that is at the same time introspective, horrific, and confining.

The script was written originally in French and translated into English in response to interest by publisher First Second. Jerome, a young Canadian soldier during World War II, returns to his small home town in Quebec after going AWOL from the army. Worried that he will be apprehended by authorities, Jerome’s mother sends him to his grandfather and the isolated tragedy-laden decaying cabin in the woods. Acclimatizing to his grandfather’s moodiness and lack of display of human warmth and the history of fire and suicides in the cabin he is helping his grandfather renovate, causes Jerome’s state of mind to deteriorate. His outlook is not aided by the fact that he is haunted equally by his war memories and the radio announcements of the ongoing war in Europe and the melancholy environment that is his imposed home.

The story is especially unnerving as the reader is not sure if the surreal threats are figments of Jerome’s imagination or actual ghostly phenomenon: a black cat, a dead woman, a witch, and perilous alcohol smugglers. As illustrator Simon LeClerc states in an interview: “The war and the fact that he’s a deserter mostly prevent him from getting out of the wood, trapping him in that house, pushing him further into his isolation; and that’s when the house starts playing tricks on his mind.”

LeClerc’s illustrations are muddy, atmospheric and filled with muted but brightly coloured illustrations. They are filled with texture, mystery, and the confusion that resides inside of Jerome’s perceptions and aspirations. The panel layout is effective in directing the varied elements of the story itself as the reader never gets a chance to become compliant with the pacing of this well told tale that resonates in angst and hope.

There is an underlying tone of violence throughout the entire tale, one that is dark with overtones and allusions of suicides, murder, unhappiness and war, that makes me think this title would be better suited to a more mature reading audience. There is nothing within the covers that would be unsuitable for a teen audience except, in my opinion, for the accumulated weight of the misery Jerome must confront in order to become whole again.

Idle Days
By Thomas Desaulniers-Brousseau
Art by Simon Leclerc
ISBN: 9781626724587
First Second, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

The Owner’s Manual to Terrible Parenting


Guy Delisle is a fantastic observer of the microscopic minutae of human nature in unfamiliar surroundings as evidenced in his travelogues: Shenzhen, Pyongyang, Burma Chronicles and Jerusalem. Throughout each of these efforts, his own clueless, curious self is an essential element of the tale. A semi-provincial Quebecois guy finds himself in these unfamiliar situations, and as it turns out, they are indeed weird, but they’re also just the settings of other people’s normal lives. Delisle finds familiarity in strange surroundings and teases the absurdly weird out of the familiar, and his parenting manuals are the same—unadulterated Delisle, and thus a pleasure.

Though on a much smaller scale than his travelogues, Delisle weaves a series of tales of parental weariness, wariness, and bald-faced lying to his two children, as well as letting them get away with all sorts of naughtiness and fibbery of their own. The Owner’s Manual to Terrible Parenting, the third in a series that one hopes will continue indefinitely, observes his relationship with his children as they grow up and threaten to catch on to his schemes and shortcuts. He tries and fails to make reading Harry Potter a lesson in adverbs, teaches his daughter the correct way to spell swear words, destroys his son’s helicopter, and gets shown up by his son when he makes up a story about what would happen if the moon came closer to earth, among other brief, light tales.

A few things set Delisle’s parenting humor apart from most. One is his underlying appreciation for the cleverness and intelligence of his children, wherein he is usually the butt of the joke; they tend to get the best of him one way or another. Though he paints himself as a silly and sometimes lazy parent, his love and awe for his children is never in doubt. It’s a refreshing response to cartoonists who paint children as difficult and parents as put-upon.

The second thing that makes Delisle special is his understated and unfailingly precise cartooning style. In Delisle’s character focused line-drawings, a slightly raised eyebrow or a quick turn of the head speak volumes about moods, motives and what mischief might lie ahead. Although this volume is the stuff of domestic comedy and Delisle’s illustrations have little setting beyond kitchen, living room, bedroom, or streetside, their simplicity is deceptive. There is always something going in each of his character’s heads—after all, Delisle’s clever children are very clearly his children.

I have two children myself, one who is far too young to express anything beyond “thank you for feeding me and keeping me relatively clean” and one whose humor extends to yelling at the younger one and repeating her favorite phrases ad infinitum and literally running around in circles, so I’m not quite to Delisle’s level of complexity when it comes to humor. However, the really wonderful thing about this parenting gig is staring deep into your child’s eyes and trying to find the wheels turning and the dots connecting as they piece together the world, and rejoicing in that small and intimate daily miracle. Delisle, weary as he may be, does that with his children and passes that joy on to us. Because of that effort, this is a delightful and sweet read.

The Owner’s Manual to Terrible Parenting
by Guy Delisle
ISBN: 9781770462144
Drawn and Quarterly, 2015