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Suddenly Something Happened

by Jimmy Beaulieu; KerryAnn Cochrane, trans.

Perhaps as a way of compensating for a long history of being associated with superheroes and fantastic tales, a lot of comic books and graphic novels from the past few decades have taken as their subject matter the mundane, local, and everyday, with autobiography being a favourite form.

Suddenly Something Happened, an English translation of Montreal-based author Jimmy Beaulieu’s Le Moral des Troupes (winner of the 2005 Prix de l’Espoir Québécois) and Quelques Pelures, is just such a book. The story follows “Jimmy” as he moves from Quebec City to Montreal, tracking his romantic entaglements and budding career as a comic artist via a series of low-key, pencil-sketch vignettes. Although this is primarily an omnibus of previously published work, the author has added a dozen new pages and done some rewriting for the English edition.

Beaulieu is particularly adept at capturing urban landscapes and locations, in particular the street life and beautiful women of Canada’s sexiest city. As the cover art – which depicts the character of Jimmy casting an appreciative glance at a woman striking a provocative pose – makes clear, this is one young, urban, progressive male who is unashamed to be caught staring at the “life impulse,” “reproductive instinct,” and “joyful lustiness” surrounding him. Whether his penchant for drawing pretty girls is a form of compensation for something lacking in his own life is an open question.

Both the physical and emotional textures of the narrative are underscored in precise observational details ranging from architecture to clothes to numerous domestic sounds. Beaulieu’s habit of drawing exaggerated, bug-eyed reaction shots doesn’t seem quite in keeping with the realistic and understated tone of the work, but this is only a minor complaint. In every other respect, and despite the shifts in style that might be expected in a decade’s worth of work, this is a convincing and charming self-portrait of the artist as a young man.