Graphic Novel

Power (Outage) of Love

Jimmy Beaulieu is a creative powerhouse in the French-speaking graphic novel milieu. The cartoonist has published 16 books in the past 14 years in addition to working as the publisher at Mécanique générale and starting his own small-print press, Colosse. In 2010, English Canada was finally able to see some of Beaulieu’s work with the release of Suddenly Something HappenedIt’s the story of Beaulieu’s life: his childhood growing up among a huge extended family on Île d’Orléans, his parents’ separation, his years of singledom in Quebec City and Montreal, and finally life with his girlfriend in Montreal’s Rosemont neighbourhood. Suddenly Something Happened showcased Beaulieu’s significant skill as a graphic artist and his wonderful sense of humour.

Originally published in French in 2006, My Neighbour’s Bikini is the story of two shy neighbours living on the Plateau who meet on a sweltering summer day when everything grinds to a halt because of a power blackout. Simon introduces himself to his neighbour, Bernadette, on a downtown street, and, after they walk home together, Bernadette invites Simon to go for a swim at the neighbourhood pool. The chance meeting has an authentic cringeworthy feel to it, mainly because of some highly realistic dialogue, and this short tale offers a very accurate depiction of Montreal. However, the story has some sizeable shortcomings.

My Neighbour's Bikini, by Jimmy Beaulieu

My Neighbour’s Bikini
Jimmy Beaulieu
Translated by KerryAnn Cochrane

Conundrum Press
$15
paper
64pp
978-1-894994-83-5

In a graphic novel it is imperative that the reader readily understands the relationship between two consecutive panels, through visual or textual clues. In My Neighbour’s Bikini, the relationship between panels is not always clear. Two vignettes that have zero or little impact on the outcome of the narrative were inserted into the storyline. In the first instance, Bernadette and Simon’s conversation is interrupted by a sequence with a young man cycling on Mount Royal. In the second, the story jumps abruptly from Bernadette and Simon walking home to two women in an apartment sharing an intimate moment. One of these women, who the reader later meets at the pool, is Bernadette’s neighbour. While these two vignettes were initially confusing, they do add some atmospheric detail to the story, lending it an overall dreamlike quality. Introducing vignettes into the traditional storyline is a recurring pattern in Beaulieu’s work. This is especially true in À la faveur de la nuit (2010).

Another recurring feature in Jimmy Beaulieu’s work (unfortunately non-existent in Suddenly Something Happens) is nudity, which is tastefully presented and never gratuitous in My Neighbour’s Bikini. Beaulieu has considerable talent at drawing nudes, and the author should be given credit for presenting natural-looking, full-hipped women rather than the standard waif variety. In the past, he has presented work with frontal nudes of men, which was the subject of complaints at the Quai des Bulles Festival in Saint-Malo, France. Naked women were fine, but a naked man in an intimate moment was apparently offensive…

I was initially puzzled by the publisher’s choice to translate a book that was first released in French eight years ago – it does not reflect how far the author has come since then. But My Neighbour’s Bikini, although not Beaulieu’s best, is tamer than some of his other work, and it may be a way to test the waters to see how English speakers will react to his more audacious content. Overall, once readers accept his non-traditional storyline, they will enjoy the oneiric quality of his work, and of course, the fact that his characters, both male and female, look like everyday people – a refreshing and welcome change. mRb

Heather Leighton has written for the Globe and Mail and the Montreal Gazette. She is the books editor of The Rover. You can find more of her writing at The Unexpected Twists and Turns.

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