For too much of the last decade, serious comics have been so rare that critics leap to overpraise anything that looks even remotely sophisticated. From semi-tough noir books like Stray Bullets to clumsy emo-comics like My Uncle Jeff, the work being held up as the best of the best has often been just as juvenile as any superhero book, and just as reliant on violence and vulgarity to titillate young male readers. Even one of the more striking graphic novels of recent years, Paul Hornschemeier's Mother Come Home, sullies its poignant lyricism by stooping to the kind of cheap plot devices that have made American independent films so dully predictable at times. These young artists feel obligated to bleed all over the page.
Michel Rabagliati, a middle-aged French-Canadian who came to comics late, doesn't fuss a lot with high drama. His stories are personally revealing but gentle, full of kind people with common problems. In the 2002 graphic novel Paul Has A Summer Job and its new sequel, Paul Moves Out, Rabagliati employs a light, curvy drawing style and episodic plotting that overtly recalls Hergé's Tintin adventures, or Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian's Monsieur Jean stories. Rabagliati's "Paul" is a thinly cloaked version of the artist's younger self, growing up in Quebec in the late '70s and early '80s, as hippie communality gives way to new-wave cool. In Paul Moves Out, Rabagliati follows his wide-eyed hero from art school to his first real job, watching himself falling in love and eventually shacking up with the woman he'd later marry.
The book requires a little patience and faith. Rabagliati's memories of his college days are often steeped in mundanity, and even when there's a moment of tensionlike when Paul's gay art professor makes a pass at him on a New York City sightseeing tripit quickly passes, with little apparent lingering effect. But the geniality of Paul Moves Out becomes infectious, as Rabagliati recreates what it's like to be an inexperienced young person learning about art, film, food, music, and love. He works deliberately toward a quiet but devastating finish, which recasts all that's come before as a kind of origin story: not for a superhero, but for a life.