Once upon a time, Guy Delisle and his family travelled about, living in many an exotic location – Guy Delisle’s other half working for Médecins Sans Frontières, whilst Guy did the stay at home dad thing – a position that enabled Delisle to produce some of the most enjoyable graphic travelogues it’s been my good fortune to read – we’re talking Pyongyang, Shenzhen, Burma Chronicles and Jerusalem). He also, in amidst the more serious work, crafted a short series of comic guides for the neglectful parent, which go towards creating the picture of Delisle as someone able to talk about serious matters with a deft lightness of touch.
In recent years, it feels like Delisle’s life has settled somewhat because he has tried his hand at things he hasn’t done before – like Hostage, which is a graphic piece of nonfiction based on a survivor’s account of being held hostage by Chechyen rebels, and now this, Factory Summers, a memoir about the job he took working in a paper mill for three summers while he was a teenager.
Two things strongly recommend Factory Summers, particularly if you’ve read other books by Guy Delisle: the art, which is recognisably Delisle and the voice, Delisle’s narrative tone, which comes imbued with a strange warmth (there is beguiling pleasure involved in being taken by the readerly hand by Delisle).
In terms of what to expect: if you’ve ever had a summer job in a place where other people work full time, all year round, you’ll get a sense of the atmosphere conjured up, a young(ish) boy interested in animation working alongside blokey blokes who struggle to imagine a life beyond the four walls of the factory. You get a sense of the mill’s history, there are odd glimpses into the way logs used to be brought down the river in days gone by, but for the most part, it’s a young boy, doing the job, engaging in high jinx, studying others, trying to get by.
And if that feels ever so slightly slight, well it is, in some ways. At certain points, you suspect the lens is going to pan backwards and reveal a broader perspective, taking in the way industry has changed in a small community, or exploring how the environmental damage wrought by a paper mill has come to loom larger in the author’s mind – but you don’t really get any of that. The most serious aspect of Factory Summers is Delisle’s relationship with his distant father (who also worked at the mill), but even this hovers ever so slightly out of view.
So it’s fine and it’s pleasant and, as we say, if you like Delisle you’ll lap it up as we did – but there is the back of the mind niggle that Delisle is a great graphic artist in need of a better subject.
Any Cop?: A pleasant enough addition to the Delisle canon.