15.Apr.2013 Review: Journal by Julie Delporte
“I Dream of Pale Colours…”
by Julie Delporte
184 pgs, full-colour
review by BK Munn
Grey pages taped onto a grey page. A date, written in purple pencil. A school of fish, drawn in blue, juxtaposed with hand-written text: “the things that I dread … happen, one after the other.” A blond woman, blue face, purple clothing. The purple text: “they don’t pass by like trains, they crash into me.” Below this, yellow fish, blue letters: “I don’t have any control (there is nothing I can do).” Underneath, in purple: “I don’t know how to protect myself.” The page is poetic montage, nihilistic howl, and zen meditation.
It is also comics. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder, could this be the most brilliantly-coloured, existential comic book memoir dealing with depression, loneliness and dread I’ve ever experienced? Journal is a graphic diary kept by Julie Delporte over a two year period spanning 2011 and 2012, chronicling her life after the breakup of a long-term boyfriend relationship, first in Montreal and then during a working sojourn to the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. Originally posted on her blog (translated from the original French for this book) partly as a method of dealing with her newfound solitude, these intense pages of narrative sketches and hand-written reflections are beautifully composed therapeutic bullets that Delporte originally aims at her ex-boyfriend before shifting the focus towards her own mental state, anxieties and ambitions. It’s a gradual shift, enabled by time and distance, but by the time she makes the move to Vermont most of her entries are no longer addressed to the ex (the nameless “you”), and the “we” she writes about are the new studio mates and cartoonists she has begun to socialize with.
Part of this self-rehabilitation (there are hints of nightmares, panic attacks, and extended blue periods) comes through the experience of art, but it’s not an easy road. Certainly her documented choices of film viewing (classic arthouse downers like Tarkovsky, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Opening Night) and reading matter (heavy stuff like Gilles Deleuze or Julia Kristeva’s Black Sun: Depression and Melancholy) don’t seem especially designed to encourage carefree joi de vivre and self-assurance, but Delporte does find solace and inspiration in other creators, and even excerpts a paragraph from the fearless French autobiographical novelist Annie Ernaux as her epigraph. But the evidence of the book is that the process of making art is a supremely liberating and therapeutic activity: both for the “practical purpose” and meaning it gives to daily life and because it allows us to pause and reflect on images of intense beauty and subtlety.
Initially resistant to the idea that heart-wrenching, excruciatingly raw diary comics could be made sufferable with the simple addition of the contents of an elementary school pencil case, Journal gradually won me over, stretching my comics boundaries along the way. Delporte comes out of the exciting Montreal comics scene, and she has published her French-language comics and comics criticism through that city’s Colosse imprint, as well as La Mauvaise Tête, La courte échelle, and through the Belgian publisher L’employe du Moi. She also runs the “48 Heures” comics festival and a local radio show devoted to comics, so her bd credentials are well-established. That being said, Delporte’s approach to comics making and figural drawing is highly personal. While Journal isn’t in traditional comics format (with the exception of the very occasional word balloon and sequence, it is mostly a series of randomly observed moments, remembered scenes, and outward expressions of inner turmoil, expressed chronologically) it follows in the best autobio comics traditions with its full blast, both-barrels honesty and stylized documentary approach. There is an immediacy to this book that maybe couldn’t be captured in any other way, reading almost like thought pictures. Composed mostly in coloured pencil, ranging in tone from dismal grey to dayglo, neon sunshine yellow, with the collage-like addition of pieces of scotch tape and different shades of paper, this is a story told through colour. Even Delporte’s signature cursive lettering changes colour several times per page, to emphasize a thought or respond to a mood –a very subtle performance. Joined with the lush reproduction of the book’s design, the overall effect transcends its surface pleasures: a pleasant diaristic combination of comics, elementary school student workbook and impressionist painting. Super inviting and superbly engaging.