Rabagliati and Roland

A joyful trip to Happy Harbor Comics and my bank account is certainly feeling a bit lighter, but the geek monster inside of me is grateful to have been fed. I’m especially grateful for the awesome quicker reads as this is dance recital season, and I feel like my head’s about to explode with all the show organizing. This season is also why others, like Consumed By Ink, are doing better in my own challenges than I am – take a gander at her reading for the Summer of the Great Canadian Short Story!

I finally picked up The Song of Roland by Michel Rabagliati. I’ve mentioned his work before and “they” have been saying this is his best work yet. Rabagliati is most famous for his fairly autobiographical Paul series, The Song of Roland being the story of the life of Paul’s father-in-law. The original book is Paul a Quebec, and I’m not quite sure why they took such liberties in the translation of the title, perhaps to make allusions to the epic poem of the same name? But, then why not do that in French as well? Anyway, Paul is now married and in his 40s with a young daughter, and during Roland’s illness, he gets to see the man behind the grandpa, and to see how this man came from nothing and built a family.

I don’t know much about art styles, but Rabagliati’s seems to conform to a great tradition of black and white graphic novelists in CanLit such as Bryan Lee O’Malley, Chester Brown, and Jeff Lemire. It also conforms to the rounder-edged, more minimalist styles of many graphic artists who tell slice of life/family drama stories, such as some of the above, and Hope Larson (Mercury), Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), and Alison Bechdel (Dykes to Watch Out For and creator of the Bechdel Test). I’ve seen this referred to as “European cartoon style,” I suppose in reference to Tin Tin and Asterix. Perhaps that’s where the style came from, but I think these family dramas have their own unique style that is quite different from that of Tin Tin.  I’m not normally a huge fan of this rounder-edged style, but for some reason, I find it very much suits the stories Rabagliati chooses to tell. Something about the softer faces conveys both the nostalgia with which he writes, and somehow throws the harsher times in his life into sharp relief. In this particular book, I really loved a dream sequence that was beautifully tense and heartbreaking.

The first thing I noted about the story of Roland’s life was that, in contrast to many stories about men’s lives – especially those about men who came from nothing – this is not a story of the business/empire he built, but of the family he built. Roland, whose history contains a distinct lack of familial connections, managed to understand that family was what he needed, and how to make building one a priority.  In turn, his daughters now know how to foster a family, and Paul gets to feel included in one for the good times and the bad. I always enjoy the way Rabagliati portrays the jumble of large families, with all their joys, annoyances, frustrations, traditions and sadness, and TSOR is his best work yet in that regard. There is a pot smoking scene with the 3 sisters taking care of their dad that actually had me doing the same “relief laugh” as they were. You know, the great big (often inappropriate) laugh that sometimes happens in the middle of tough times that just helps you let go a bit?

The best words for Rabagliati’s work that I can come up with are touching and nostalgic. if you’re in the mood for that, especially in regards to family, then I would highly recommend picking up any one of his Paul books, especially The Song of Roland. You really don’t have to read these books in order, so start wherever you want in the series and go from there.

Okay, off to polish tech notes, review storyline voices, and plan the great cat herding!


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2 Responses to Rabagliati and Roland

  1. Naomi says:

    I have never heard of these books before, but they sound very Canadian, so I better check them out! Good luck with the dance recitals! When they’re over, you’ll have lots of free time, right? 😉

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