Glorious Summers v3 cover by Jordi Lafebre

Glorious Summers v3: “Little Miss Esterel”

I’m not crying. You’re crying.

Isn’t that what we’re supposed to say on the internet?

This series is just that good.

 

Glorious Summers v3: “Little Miss Esterel”

Writer: Zidrou
Artist: Jordi Lafebre
Colorist: Jordi Lafebre and Mado Pena
Lettering: Cromatik Ltd.
Translator: Lara Vergnaud
Published by: Dargaud/Europe Comics
Number of Pages: 58
Original Publication: 2017

 

Flash Forward

1991-ish Peaches is a Nirvana fan

This volume is book-ended in the future. I’m guessing it’s about 1991 or 1992. Peaches is a bit of a rebellious teenager, and is seen here wearing her Nirvana t-shirt with her high-waisted acid wash jeans and biggish hair. The feels about 1991/1992 to me, though it’s never explicitly stated.  (Come to think of it, I pegged her date of birth as 1970 based on clues in the previous volume, so I guess she’s more 21/22 here.)

She’s the last one at home, and Dad is selling the car. Yes, the car the family took all the vacations in through the 1960s and 1970s (and, we’ll probably see in the next volume, 1980s) is going away. Peaches has no nostalgia.  She’s only annoyed that she has to help clean it up.

The car is a classic now, the family isn’t taking their large vacations anymore (I presume), and so it’s time to get rid of the car while it has some value and someone who wants to buy it.

It weirdly made me sad and nostalgic. I’ve only known this family for two volumes, but from careful readings I’ve been trying to piece together their stories. The car was, oddly, at the center of it.  It’s been the bedrock of the series.

Through a conversation with the car buyer, we also learn a little more about Pierre’s career path in comics in the late 1970s and 1980s.  Zidrou continues to feed us little bits and pieces of that career.  You can piece together a rough timeline of it now without too many holes.  I’m sure Zidrou has plenty more to come in the next two volumes, though….

But, first, we travel back to the summer of 1962…

 

The Vacation From Hell

The entire Falderault family in their vacation car at customs

In 1962, the young Falderault family (Pierre and Maddy) has only two small children, Nicole and Julie.  Maddie’s father gifted them a new car, in part from the proceeds of selling his hat business.  (Fashions are changing.)

To go along with that, Maddie’s parents are joining the family for their summer vacation.

As you might guess, having the in-laws join you on vacation may seem like a good idea — baby-sitters! — but there are a lot of other complications that arise.

Maddy’s mother is a stuck-up ultra-traditional woman who disapproves of nearly everything her daughter does.  She also insists on running the whole vacation. Pierre’s method of driving south and letting the road take them to wherever it wants is, instead, supplanted by Grandma’s trusty Michelin Guide.  It’ll be only hotels and restaurants with two stars this summer!

From the first two books, we already know that this is not how Pierre likes to travel.  He prefers the great outdoors, camping, and the spur of the moment decisions.  He likes the ocean, which Grandma is not going to let them get near…  Pierre wants to go to France and live that life, while Grandma wants to go to a Belgian-themed hotel and stay there as much as possible, aside from some church tour sight-seeing.

Grandma drives her daughter crazy in Glorious Summers v3

Beyond that, the way she treats everyone around here is very… abrupt.  She holds nothing back and doesn’t have the tact to either phrase things politely or just keep them to herself.  She calls her own husband a “cripple” because he had a heart attack last year!

“Grandmother” treats her own husband like a small child, and her daughter like a teenager. She’s filled with unhelpful advice on how to keep a woman’s figure and how to parent children.

It’s a powder keg waiting to explode.  The only question is, who will blow up first?

 

History

 

Glorious Summers v3, roly poly grandpa likes to play with the kids

Grandpa is an interesting figure.  He’s short and round and loves to play with the kids.  But he’s had recent health issues, and an interesting history from the past during war time when he was captured by the Germans.  The health issues lead to some big laughs as Grandma runs around to prevent him from getting any french fries, while the war time past turns out to be even more important than you think.

The miracle of the book that Zidrou pulls off, somehow, is in not just portraying “Nana Vette” as a rigid and authoritarian figure, but also in giving her a believable “origin story” that explains it all.   It leads to some of the most emotional moments of the book and, quite possibly, a few reader tears. By the end of the book, she doesn’t change one bit but your view of her changes drastically.

It leads to a pair of the most emotional moments I’ve read in comics in quite some time.  If you’re a softie, you’re going to buy into this one, big time.

For the sake of the overall plot, Zidrou didn’t need to explain anything. He could have introduced the grandparents, given them strong identities, and played it all for laughs.  Instead, he creates a full narrative that stretches from their early marriage through Maddy’s childhood and into their first two grandkids’ childhoods and the events of this book. It’s all layered in there, and makes the book worth reading a second time with everything you now know in mind.

Once you know more about the characters, all the little things earlier will take on new meanings and make more sense.  This isn’t “The Usual Suspects,” by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a book that rewards a closer read.

 

Pierre’s Comics Career

Zidrou presents Pierre’s comics career as a bit troubled in the first two books.  He’s seen some success that’s made him miserable, but breaking off on his own has been a disappointment and even caused some strife in his marriage. Zidrou fills in the pieces of that timeline as the series goes along.

Pierre's comic book boss is an [expletive deleted]

In this volume, we finally meet the man who Pierre worked for but couldn’t stand. We get a tangible story of how awful the guy is and get a better feel for why Pierre would want to go it solo.  It’s more than just ‘creative differences.’

It’s the kind of workplace strife you might imagine from any workplace with a bad actor or two.  Whether you’re a creative or an office grunt, you’ve likely had to deal with this kind of jerk, so the story feels very visceral.

It all starts in this story, of course, with Pierre’s work pushing the start of the family vacation back by four days. As usual. You can probably picture parallels to the North American comic world’s history with what’s happening here.  Whether Zidrou is basing this character on one particular creator or not, I don’t know, but it certainly feels like a real possibility.

 

Belgium!

The Belgian-themed hotel the Falderaults stay in during Glorious Summers v3

Zidrou, a Belgian himself, throws in a lot of Belgian culture for this book.  Beyond just the self-deprecating gags centered on how dull and gray a country Belgium is, we get little lessons in Belgian history. The Belgian-themed hotel in France that the family stays in — festooned in Belgian flags — is celebrating Belgian Independence Day.  The rooms are named after major cities in the country.

And, of course, there are the frites — the French [sic] Fries — that are at the center of the story and serve as a physical manifestation for so much of Grandpa’s ascetic lifestyle under his wife.

There’s so much to talk about in that relationship, but I don’t want to spoil everything here.  Just read the book.  You’ll see what’s going on.

 

Checking All the Boxes

Here’s the thing that impresses me most in this series: It’s the same story every time.  The family goes off on vacation in the summer.  They start late because Dad is late working on a comic.  A frites stand beckons on the way home. They drive through customs.  They have small little events while on vacation.  Pierre brings home a rock.

The kids are cute.  More often than not, there’s a fantasy character in the book somewhere — a rabbit in the first book and something I won’t spoil in this one.

Zidrou keeps that from getting stale and repetitive in a number of ways.  Obviously, jumping big distances in time helps.  The growing family gives it a new dynamic every time.  Maddie’s parents playing such a central role in this story make it completely unlike the others.  And, then Zidrou continues to fill in small gaps in the overall story arc of the family.

 

It’s the Little Things

In the first hotel the family stays in, Pierre takes note of this poster hanging on the wall. It’s a reminder of the vacation he isn’t having.  He wanted to bring the girls to see the ocean, and instead he’s heading to a small backwards town that everyone else doesn’t like.

Pierre longing looks at a poster of the ocean he isn't visiting on this vacation, but which he will a few years later....

It’s also a poster that should look familiar to readers of the series.  It’s exactly where they wound up on their vacation in volume 2:

From Glorious Summers volume 2, here's a spot in the Mediterranean the family visited that Pierre saw a poster of in volume 3

That, ladies and gentlemen, is how an artist properly copies himself!

 

 

Recommended?

Glorious Summers v3 cover by Jordi Lafebre

Emphatically, yes.  Yes, Yes, Yes!  The more you read of this series, the more you’ll enjoy it.

Zidrou’s story structure and scripting is, once again, right on point here. There’s no fancy endings or open-ended issues or strange interpretations to make here. (I loved “Vice City” up until the final six pages of the series, and I still don’t know quite what to make of that one…)

Jordi Lafebre’s art is glorious.  I didn’t talk about it at all in this review, because I’m afraid I’d just be repeating myself.  But he’s a master.  The way he draws the characters as they age across the decades is incredibly well done.  His natural drawing skills lead to some of the most emotive character work I’ve seen since Kevin Maguire.  I’ll have to get back to the art more when volume 4 comes out.  It’s not available for pre-order yet as I write this, but I have no doubt we’ll see it sometime in the next month or two.  I’m excited for it!

— 2018.084 —

 

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