Tuesday, July 5

‘Chronicles of Youth’, the journey to the beginning of the social conscience of the comic book author Guy Delisle

Canadian comic book author Guy Delisle works with memory. He became internationally famous for the cartoon chronicles of some of the trips he has made. A recurring question in interviews is whether he draws in the moment, to which he always replies that he gets to it when he returns home. For his latest book, which in a way is also about travel, he has not had to take a plane because the displacement was only temporary. Titled Chronicles of youth It is now published in Spain by the Astiberri publishing house, with a translation by María Serna.

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This time he returns to the autobiography: in the summer of his 16 years he got a job in the pulp and paper factory where his father had worked for three decades. He was still a fine arts student in Quebec, his hometown, and he didn’t have much idea of ​​what his future was going to be, like almost everyone else at that age. With the money he got in those summer months, he could pay for part of his studies. I didn’t expect to get much more out of that experience and, of course, not a comic that would end up being published in multiple languages.

Although his father had a drafting position with the company, his was much lower. In a metaphorical and literal way: he was part of the team of workers that operated the machines with which the paper was produced that was later served to clients such as The New York Times. This process was carried out in the lower part of the building, while on the upper floors were the desks and offices of the engineers, his father’s area.

Like any novice, he had to learn how the devices that were handled in the factory’s guts worked and that were to be his work tool. But also what were the codes that were used among the workers of that section, unionized workers who left their health breathing toxic fumes and enduring a thunderous noise in 12-hour shifts four days a week. A reality that he did not know because of his origin and his age and that opened his eyes to what the difference in classes means.

It also brought him closer to his father, albeit in a more subtle way. Knowing the day-to-day life of a person who was distant in all aspects – they lived in separate houses and did not communicate very well with each other – gave him answers to many why. He spent three summers in that factory where he came to feel comfortable, although when life gave him the opportunity to embark on a path related to his vocation – a production in an animation studio – he took it without looking back. The comic can be defined as ‘Bildungsroman’ or training novel: the passage from childhood-adolescence to adult life, in this case through summer jobs.

A documentary maker in strokes

Delisle is a documentary maker of what happens to her in life, she does not go in search of experience but rather meets it. He has shown the not always pleasant reality of many countries that he has visited for work reasons – his or his partner, who works at Doctors without borders. Shenzhen (Astiberri, 2006), Pyongyang (Astiberri, 2005), Burmese Chronicles (Astiberri, 2008) and Chronicles of jerusalem (Astiberri, 2011) are the titles that made him known not only among comic fans, but also brought many people closer to this genre. The latter won the award for the best work at the Angoulême International Comic Fair in 2012, one of the highest awards that an author can receive.

Part of his success lies in the expressiveness of his drawings, which he achieves with faces that he draws without baroque: dots to represent the eyes, a line or a circle for the mouth. The one that appears the most times on the pages is his because it usually stars in all the books, with the exception of Inspector Moroni (Astiberri, 2014), the short stories gathered in How to do nothing (Astiberri, 2009), the children’s book Luis goes to the beach (Faktoría K, 2010) and Escape. Story of a hostage (Astiberri, 2016). Another is the ability to analyze the situation of the country in which they have been – which is not usually very good for those who live there – and show it clearly, without sentimentality or mythologies but with a dose of humor and tenderness that seeps into the reader.

Also on the list of autobiographical works are the four volumes of the Bad father guide, also published in Spain by Astiberri. The title of the book is accurate: in its pages it is shown how an irresponsible father who likes to annoy his children with jokes such as pretending that he has sliced ​​his arm with a chainsaw to terrorize one of his children. Stories of humor at the same time as intimate in which almost everything is true as he himself has said.

Escape. Story of a hostage (Astiberri, 2016) is the book that most departs from the general lines of its bibliography. It is neither humorous nor starred by him but by Christophe André, a member of a medical NGO based in the North Caucasus who was held hostage for 111 days. Most of the time it was chained to a radiator as you can see on the cover. Finally he was able to escape, thanks to which Delisle was able to chat with him, learn about his experience in depth and translate it into cartoons.

Now he doesn’t travel as much because his wife no longer works at Doctors Without Borders, but as he shows in Chronicles of youth you have saved material for more work if your future experiences don’t convince you. André’s story took more than a decade to put on paper, and for his latest comic, he has gone back almost 40 years. Is he modus operandi by Guy Delisle: go, document, reflect and draw. And, for now, it still works.