Yesterday, I went to the library to return a few books. Although, I had two more books to be read at home I couldn’t resist walking over to the book shelves to see what else I can get. But this time I went to the graphic novels section first. Usually, I need to wade through the stacks of Marvel comics or manga novels to find the ones that I like. And this time, I found treasures. Michel Rabagliati’s Paul has a Summer Job was one of them.
Often, the graphic novel is misunderstood. We think of it as a breezy comic that’s meant to be read as a filler for more comprehensive, ‘meaningful’ books. But graphic novels are sometimes more meaningful than a 500 page tome. Simply because it’s visual and we can see the emotions or thoughts of the characters in front of us. Of course, imagining them might be powerful as well. But we imagine them differently and the writer can convey a deep emotion in a lighthearted manner that is equally effective. That’s exactly what Rabagliati does.
Paul’s coming-of-age story is something we can all identify with. It’s that proverbial ‘magical summer,’ promoted by movies, where something always happens. Think The Sandlot, Kings of Summer or The Way, Way Back. Paul’s experiences are along the same lines. When his friend Guy Cayer offers him a job at a summer camp for underprivileged kids as a counsellor, Paul is mortified. He doesn’t think he is good enough and that he can handle kids. But after a little persuasion he goes anyway.
In the few days that the camp has, to set up its facilities before the children arrive, Paul ends up doing a lot of things that he never thought he would have to do. Rabagliati’s witty portrayal of Paul’s fears and his confrontation of them had me chuckling to myself many times.
There are some tender moments too. I loved Paul’s interaction with the blind girl Katie, and the way the entire group takes care of the children. As the golden summer months roll by, Paul grows up in more ways than one. He leaves with a lot of memories and much more confidence in himself.
Rabagliati’s panels, his humour and the focus on true-to-life experiences reminded me of Guy DeLisle. I have read two of his books, Shenzhen and Pyongyang, and I loved both. Both are travelogues and they are the author’s own impressions of these countries. Rabagliati has a similar style of writing; that deceptive flippancy about things dark and deep. But we know that though they are being funny, they are also making us think. We laugh, reflect, and identify with a lot of moments (at least I did) as Paul makes his way in life. That’s a lot to pack in to a 45 minute read.