“Glorious Summers” is a beautifully drawn story of a Belgian family taking a driving vacation into France. There’s one particular bit of drama at the center of things, but this is otherwise a low-drama, feel-good family story. It’s the “shocking” portrayal of a family having a good time
Artist: Jordi Lafebre
Colorist: Jordi Lafebre and Mado Pena
Lettering: Cromatik Ltd.
Translator: Lara Vergnaud
Published by: Dargaud/Europe Comics
Number of Pages: 59
Original Publication: 2015
The Family Vacation That’s Not From Hell
Let’s be honest: This is a Lifetime movie of the week kind of movie. No, wait, that’s too dramatic. This is a Hallmark holiday special kind of movie. It’s the scenic story of a happy family that hits one snag, quickly gets over it, and rides into the sunset.
It’s the kind of book no publisher in their right mind would publish over here. It breaks many of the “rules” of commercial fiction that the publishers rely on for their sales algorithms.
It’s the story of the Falderaults, a family from Belgium driving down to France for a vacation. Dad is a struggling comic book artist, whose deadlines start the vacation three days later than originally planned. Literally, the publisher sent an errand boy over to his house with orders not to leave until he gets the final pages. I don’t know if Zidrou based this on any specific artist or editor, but it’s real. Editors have had to do crazy stuff like this before. (Joe Quesada told a story in San Diego recently about the editor that went to Jae Lee’s house to get pages done…)
Mom is hiding some sadness, but we don’t know why just yet. And they have four kids to pack in the car, plus an imaginary friend who’s a squirrel.
There’s just the right combination of car sing-a-longs, Dad jokes, and family whimsy to make this book likable. The kids are cute, but they still act like petulant children at times, stuck in a car and whining about everything, though never a “Are Where There Yet?” directly.
They also clearly love their parents and each other. The kids can tease one another, finish each other’s sentences, and then play along with the latest running gag at someone’s expense. They have individual quirks, and they all get a moment to shine in the book.
There are two family dramas happening over the course of this book. The first I’m hesitant to spoil, because Zidrou’s script doesn’t spell it out until about halfway into the book. It’s the biggest one, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader. You might be able to guess it early on, though.
The second is unconnected and external to this vacation, until it helps provide the spark for the solution to the first drama, in part. Kinda. It involves Pierre’s brother, Xavier, and provides an interesting sort of mirror to Pierre’s family. Zidrou writes a story that feels very simple and surface-oriented, but the more you pay attention to it and all the little details, the more you can get out of it.
There are, of course, the prerequisite Belgian jokes. The family is having a good time on their vacation, and the parents are fully capable of acting like kids, themselves. They drag unknowing French people into their family misadventures without hesitations. They look weird doing it, but they don’t care.
Those people, always French, just write the family off as “Belgians. sigh”
Above is one example of a waitress who’s having to deal with the orders of the crazy Falderault family.
I can’t get enough Belgian jokes, so I’m in.
A Quick Ending
The real weakness of the book is just that the big drama of it is solved a little too quickly and easily. The character realizes something about the past, and then immediately acts on it and all is good again. Maybe this is a good sign of a person learning a life lesson, or maybe it’s a convenient escape hatch to a plot device that needed solving, fast.
If you look at this more as a Feel Good Hallmark kind of movie, though, it won’t bother you. Enjoy it for what it is. If you re-read the book with this drama and resolution in mind, you’ll see everything Zidrou lays out in the script to support it, and you’ll defintely understand it better.
I did read the book a second time, immediately. It’s a quick read, but it makes you feel good, even if there are a couple serious sections.
The Comics Connection
Dad is a comic artist, which in American comics often feels like a cheat. When Green Lantern and Captain America both started drawing comics during the day, you started to wonder if their authors are writing what they know, and that they only know one thing.
In the case of “Glorious Summers,” Pierre’s job as a cartoonist is integrated into the story without being gratuitous. The difficulties of his profession also play a major part in the story, as they might in any freelancer’s life story.
While on vacation, he checks out the local newsstand for his book, and even tries to strike up a conversation with the shop owner to see if he knows of his book.
The one son, Louis, spends most of the book reading a Lucky Luke volume. The cover is Photoshopped onto the comic every time we see Louis reading it. It’s the fortieth volume in the series, “Le Grand Duc.” I checked: it was released in 1973, the same year this book is set in. Zidrou and Lafebre got that detail right. (I’ll assume it was released before the events of this book, which are set in August.)
And if you remember our discussions about gas station giveaways from “Asterix in Switzerland“, you’ll enjoy seeing the son getting a Tintin toy at the gas station, and not being terribly happy that it wasn’t Lucky Luke.
For a book like this with such a nostalgic pull to it, you can’t help but feel a bit of the author’s own youth showing up on the page. Since he’s a comics writer today, it’s not terribly unlikely that he had some of the same comics misadventures as a kid that Louis has in this book. Zidrou was born in 1962, so the timing works out well…
The Art of Lafebre
You might recognize Lafebre’s art from his previous work on “Lydie” or “Vice Squad.” (The prolific Zidrou also wrote those.) Or, you might recognize the name from Twitter, where he’s active and has a lot of professional North American comic creator followers.
Lafebre’s art is what buys Zidrou the kind of slack I’m handing out for “Glorious Summers”. It’s a great example of how a comic is more than just the writing or the art. On its own, the art wouldn’t be considered splashy. This is a family of real people on vacation and not doing crazy things like jumping out of planes or fighting supervillains. It’s just a family on vacation, doing occasionally crazy things.
If you just read the script, you’d risk a story of a mildly amusing family vacation.
But Zidrou gives Lafebre interesting locations to draw. There are small towns and campgrounds and frites stands and small lakes. Zidrou brings the characters to life. Lafebre’s style is a realistic, but cartoony one. It gives him the ability to exaggerate features and gestures to sell any story point. Whether it’s a crazed kid or a shy child or a sad mother, it’s all there on the page. It’s easy to read. (As I’ve said a million times before, his style fits in a similar family to Joe Quesada’s, with maybe a bit of Michael Golden mixed in.)
The characters act and gesture in interesting ways. They’re never stiff or posed. You can see it just from the cover, where it’s five of the six members of the family walking in different ways, all true to character.
Something that’s particularly strong here is Lafebre’s ability not just to draw children (as opposed to the mini-adults that some artists give us) but to clearly draw them as the children of these parents, in particularly. While the four kids are all different, they’re all still definitely siblings, and clearly take after their parents, physically, in different ways.
On top of that, the colors Lafebre does with Mado Pena give the book a wonderful mood and overall look. There’s a strong color palette at work here that represents both that dreamy memory feeling, but also the time period of the 1970s. It’s never over-done, but if you stop to look at it, you’ll see some of the details and minimal shadow work that bring depth to the art.
And do check out how they handle dappled lighting, which I’m sure I’ve referenced before. It’s right there on the cover, amongst other places. Its the best and most natural looking dappling that I’ve ever seen.
Yes, absolutely. Just be aware that you’re not getting a traditional three act structure with constant drama and an explosive ending. This is one you might want to read on the beach, for sure. This is a pleasant read for when you need to take a break between books with more explosions or action set pieces. There is family drama in here, but it’s taken care of neatly.
But “Glorious Summers” is also a very, very beautiful book. And the second volume will only deepen it. This series is a group of individual stories, each set in a different year, that overlap or reference each other in interesting ways. All five volumes of the series are now available in English!
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