I wasn’t going to continue the review series for Jean-Yves Ferri and Manu Larcenet’s “Back to Basics,” but I had some things to mention about the fourth volume, which I thought was tremendous.
So here we go again:
I’ve mentioned before that “Back to Basics” reminds me so much of the comic strips I enjoyed as a kid. The formatting and the pace has that familiar feel of what I used to take from the newspapers on a daily basis.
The downside to that is that I’ve read a lot of comic strips wringing jokes out of parenting. From various points in my life, I’ve read strips like “For Better or Worse,” “Baby Blues”,”Zits”, “Calvin and Hobbes”, “Hi and Lois”, and so many others whose stock and trade becomes the family dynamic.
Like with sit-coms, adding a new baby to the strip would bring new attention to it and new readership and a fresh chance to repeat all those jokes the youngest characters aged out of. (It usually ruins a sit-com, but a comic strip can absorb the character more easily for some reason.)
“Back to Basics” v4 starts with Mariette and Manu home with their newborn child. (There’s a funny sequence of events from the end of volume 3 about that, in case you haven’t read it yet.) All of a sudden, the series is going to change from being about a city slicker learning to adapt to living in the sticks, to new parents learning to cope with the new addition to their family.
Somehow, though, it works, and that’s because of the characters. We’re seeing reactions to the baby from characters we find funny already, whether it’s the parents or the neighbors or the people in town. At the heart of things, it’s the same old topics: Lack of sleep, singing to a baby to calm her down, baby talk, the first babysitter, leaving the baby at home, the father doing ridiculous things we all know he shouldn’t do but this is a comic strip for humor’s sake, so we’ll let it go, etc.
None of the strips are really about the baby, herself. It’s never a desperate plea to the reader to like the character because she’s so cute or because kids say and do the darnedest things. She just does what a baby does, and the book is carried by the people going crazy around her.
It is also more than just the baby. There’s a great sequence of strips where Ferri and Larcenet discuss “Back to Basics” and the weirdness of the artist drawing himself as a slightly dumber-than-he-thinks-he-is person. It’s meta humor, sure, but shows that the baby hasn’t taken everything over, as they are won’t to do in the real world…
It also leads to my favorite gag of the series so far, just for how well conceived and drawn it is. Here’s Manu laying on his art boat with a single shaft of light spilling down on him and his board, down to the floor.
Supporting Cast Takes Over
As much as the first book was about Manu and Mariette, the third and fourth volumes feel like the turning point where the eccentric townsfolk come into their own as active characters in the series. They’re not just there as set dressing for Manu’s crazy adventures. They’re a part of his life now, and have backgrounds and missions of their own. They are starting to blend into Manu’s life, rather than being the outliers to it.
Also in the book: When the wife and kid are out for the weekend, Manu hangs out with Mr. Henri. A new Atlantean character wreaks havoc with Manu’s sleeping (or is it?) life. The mayor is subject to questioning when a flood in town leads to the question of missing funds. The wise old man in the tree is more a trusted confidant and wise man than a kooky over the top look at a man who ran screaming from “civilization.”
Manu is blending into all of it now, going so far as to let Mrs. Mortemonte join him on a business trip to Paris in one extended sequence, and letting her babysit his new child in an earlier one.
It’s great to see the supporting cast stepping up and being such an important part of Manu’s life. It adds more colors to the book, even if it does pull it away slightly from the more autobiographical feel of the first book in the series. As the series progresses, the fact that it’s based on Larcenet’s life more than being an account of it is getting more and more obvious.
That’s fine by me, since it’s also getting funnier and a little sillier. I like the jokes.
More Recommended Reading
There’s a fifth volume now out, as well. It’s the last one in the series so far. I don’t know if there are more planned or not, and I don’t know if I’ll be reviewing it or not. I will, for sure, be reading it, though.
The EuropeComics.com website put together a short biography on Manu Larcenet that I found profoundly interesting. It certainly puts this series into better perspective
But Is It Recommended?
Yes, though I would suggest starting with the first volume if you haven’t been reading the series. It’s regularly $6.99, as are all the books except this one, which runs $7.99. I’m not sure why this one is a buck more. It actually has four fewer pages than the rest of the series, not more.
(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #25.)
Also recommended for its autobiographical humor: