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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Nicolas -- On the day that I found out my mother had died, I remember shedding a tear or two in disbelieving sadness that came nowhere near touching the center of my being. Months later, lying in bed at night with my wife, we were debating the pros and cons of moving into a bigger apartment now that our second child was on its way. A fleeting thought appeared, like quicksilver through my mind, that I should call my mom and ask her what she thought of the idea. That thought was quickly followed by a freight train of grief reminding me that she was dead, and most crushingly of all, I would never get to ask her advice about anything again, ever. I still catch myself momentarily thinking her still alive, from time to time. The same with my beloved cat Spot, who was put to sleep around the same time. It's almost impossible to truly teach your brain that they are gone.

My older brother died a few weeks ago. Upon finding it out, I felt next to nothing. A strange sense of my own aging and mortality, but my memories of the man are so few and far between that grief has yet to well up inside me, and I doubt it ever will.

We are all unique in our responses to death, but we are all the same in the fact that we must experience the deaths of those we know. Slowly, in our youth, but as the years pile into decades, there are more and more names. I think of Jerry Shepard, a radio sales executive who I often describe as "the only man I ever knew." Raoul Vezina, a gifted cartoonist who also manned the cash register at FantaCo, the greatest comic book store in my personal memory. I never really knew him, but I was in awe of him, and I know that the grief caused by his death is still felt by his friends all these decades later. John Hart, a country music DJ who once helped me change a tire in 20-degree below zero weather. So many lost relationships, so many names.

Nicolas is the name of Pascal Girard's younger brother. Nicolas died very, very young, and because it happened so quickly, Pascal never got to say goodbye, and has lived with the fact of his brother's absence ever since. Pascal Girard's grief does not seem typical, as he maps it out over the course of the graphic novel that bears his lost brother's name, but it does seem unique and all his own.

Here are Pascal and Nicolas fooling around with a cassette recorder. A small moment's entertainment, one I remember doing myself with my own brother. But it becomes huge in Pascal's memory, a gift from the past that helps him process the ongoing grief that will always be a part of him.

Girard's style is simple and to the point, in the way of Jeffrey Brown's cartooning, with stylistic nods to names as diverse as Schulz and Kochalka. It's a basic and appealing visual narrative that is also open and airy, where Brown can sometimes seem closed and claustrophobic. Girard uses borderless panels much the same way Chester Brown does, and that's another positive connection. Brown, Kochalka and Schulz are all imminently readable cartoonists, and so is Girard. No trick layouts or dazzling technique get in the way of what he wants to tell you: What he has learned about coming to grips with loss, sometimes with selfishness and arrogance, and sometimes with silence and, finally, wisdom.

Wisdom is the ultimate lesson that death has for those who open themselves up to it. The wisdom to accept that death touches us all, and the widom to accept that we all not only can, but must, come to grips with it in our own way. Girard does so with humour and a bracing honesty that makes Nicolas a treasure to experience.



Blogger Carrie said...

Thanks for this review. I've found it really hard to find books about grief and books about siblings, doubly hard to find a book that talks about grief after a siblings death.

Thanks also for sharing your experiences with loss. It's so true that the older you get, the longer the list gets...

06 January, 2009 13:11  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Thanks, Carrie, I'm glad my review resonated with you and I appreciate your comments.

06 January, 2009 13:19  
Blogger Tom Beland said...

It's been thirty years for me to the day since I lost my father and I STILL have those moments where I say "wait till dad hears about this!"

It's such a tiny fraction of time involved, but the rippling effect can turn me quiet for most of the day. I'm not sure we'll ever get over the loss of loved ones.

Or maybe that's what heaven is. Living in someone's mind all those years you're gone.

Sorry about your loss, Alan.

06 January, 2009 13:35  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Thanks, Tom. I swear, I had a brief flash in my mind just this morning that I should pick up a gift for my mother...I don't know where that came from, maybe reading Nicolas and writing this review brought a lot of that back even stronger. I guess in the end it's kind of comforting to know that someone had that much of an impact, that you can never quite fully process their absence.

Good to hear from you. I hope you and yours have a happy 2009, Tom.

06 January, 2009 14:06  

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