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 Happened. It’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
Translated by KerryAnn Cochrane
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