June 2003

Michael Farrelly

fiction

Paul Has a Summer Job by Michael Rabagliati

If you've ever tried to tell a story about your youth that was both funny and sad then you know how hard Michael Rabagliati's job is. In his graphic novel Paul Has a Summer Job Rabagliati walks the line between poignant and funny very carefully without ever giving in to schmaltz or overplaying the laughs.

The set-up is that after working at a disappointing job in a print factory, where everyone has nothing to do but complain and make the main character Paul's life more difficult, and a setback at school, Paul sets out to work as a camp counselor. Paul's a bit of a pain as the story opens, railing against everyone and everything for the tiniest slights. It nicely foreshadows his growth through the story.

Now there are plenty of campground hijinks in this book, jokes about rock-climbing, bad food and weather. Rather than falling easily into type though Rabagliati looks at the small moments, the short strokes, of the story. Take for instance a long car ride where the object of Paul's affections sits in his lap. Instead of the easy joke here we get a real sense in the art and narration at the tension of the moment, the excitement and thrill on every level.

Rabagliati's light touch also brings life to a school girl crush that Paul finds himself the object of. Again, this is not new ground for this type of story, but the way that Paul has a learning curve here, trying to both keep a respectful distance from the young girl and not get her heart broken but also revealing a sweet side to a character who starts off the story an angry young man.

Its a thousand little things that make up the whole story. Santa Claus and canned peaches, sleeping bags and canoe rides, first loves and how we remember them years later. The whole story seems to work on the idea of memory as gestalt, with the sum being greater than the whole in some respects.

Artistically the book is stellar. Rabagliati's style is open and simple with characters that can evoke a wide range of emotions with the simplest of line work. You can't help but get a kick out of the way that when two characters fall for each other they get that cartoon spiral in their eyes.

Paul Has a Summer Job is a meditation on the fine distinction between memory and reverie and how in the end the blurring of that distinction is what makes our stories worth telling. It's a summer story that you can pick up in winter only to catch the scent of nylon tents and roasting marshmallows.

Paul Has a Summer Job by Michael Rabagliati
Drawn & Quarterly
ISBN: 1896597548
160 Pages

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