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Paul Has A Summer Job
By Michel Rabagliati
Published by Drawn and Quarterly

As with many Drawn and Quarterly releases (think of Seth's It's A Good Life if You Don't Weaken or Joe Matt's Fair Weather), there's a relaxed pace established in Paul Has A Summer Job, a comforting sense that you're being told a story -- utterly fitting for a tale revolving around one young man's experiences as a counselor at a summer camp, a place where storytelling is a key element in creating a bond between strangers that can sometimes last a lifetime.

Paul is a typical 18-year-old; self-involved, well-meaning but a bit closed off from the world. Through a series of fateful occurances, he finds himself overseeing groups of children one summer in the Canadian province of Quebec. As most people would, Paul tries to maintain his existing personality in his new environment, but the combination of unexpectedly austere surroundings, joyous nature-lovers and children looking to him for guidance and friendship open Paul's mind and heart over the course of the summer. By the time it's over, he sees the world in a whole new way -- one that informs and affects his life even decades later.

Rabagliati shows us Paul's world with the touch of a master. His cartooning deftly combines looseness and confidence, and subtly masks a depth and maturity that only becomes apparent when the full blossom of the story's impact is opened up toward its conclusion. I have to admit I was fairly prepared to file Paul Has A Summer Job away under "Entertaining but light reading," throughout most of it -- I was captivated by the convincing sense of place and terrifically distinct characters, but it seemed like a bit of an insubstantial idyll upon initial consideration. Once the pace is established and the characters in place, though, Rabagliati begins weaving in essential details, crucial little moments that Paul experiences. Each moment is a snapshot in time, a tapestry that can only be fully appreciated once it is assembled and seen as a whole.

Rabagliati's style is wholly Canadian in mood and tempo -- relaxed, as I said earlier, but keenly observant and generous in its level of detail. I've never been to a summer camp, but we experience everything Paul does, from the sparkling lake waters to the dizzying heights of his first rock climbing experience. Perhaps most evocative is the scene in which Paul, by now fully alive for perhaps the first time, describes for a blind girl the mountains before the two of them:

"Behind the lake there's a dark forest, pine and spruce. And then there are mountains, one behind the other like pieces of cardboard, and they get paler the farther you look."

It's a brilliant sequence, perfect in every way. It's how I see the mountains where I live. The way Paul shares this with the young blind girl, Marie, is heartbreaking and uplifting at once, transforming both of them and the reader as well, putting all three of us a little more in touch with our humanity. It is, finally, one of the most devastatingly effective moments I have ever experienced in any artform, and one I'll remember every time I look toward the mountains.

There's more, of course -- there's romance and near-disaster and a stunning moment decades later when Paul revisits all the ghosts of perhaps the best summer of his life and Rabagliati shows it all to us with a generous sense of kindness and, caring that never once even hints at false sentiment. It's worth noting, too, that this volume once again affirms D&Q's place as the comics publisher creating the most beautifully produced books in the industry. Thick, cream-coloured paper holds jet black ink while the spare and lovely design marks this as not only a book but a top-notch art object that is a pleasure to look at and touch. It all works flawlessly to enhance the most important aspect of the book -- the story. These are characters you'll carry with you for the rest of your life, if you take the time to spend one fleeting summer getting to know them through the pages of Paul Has A Summer Job. Grade: 5/5

-- Alan David Doane



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