Josephine, v1: Humorous, Semi-Autobiographical, Neurotic

Writer: Penelope Bagieu
Artist and Coloring: Penelope Bagieu
Lettering: Studio Charon
Translator: Christina Cox-De Ravel
Published by: Delcourt
Number of Pages: 60
Original Publication: 2016

Josephine volume 1 cover by Penelope Bagieu

Josephine is in her “thirties”, as she says discreetly. She is not married, does not have any children, but she does have a cat. She is still hoping to meet the ideal man, and is working on it actively… At bars, at the gym, at wine clubs, via the Meetic online dating site… In the meantime, she buys herself designer bags at outrageous prices, has absolutely nothing to wear, and will start working out tomorrow, she promises.

Of course, any similarity to any real young women, in real life, is entirely coincidental…

The Funny French (And Belgians)

In my looks at various bandes dessinees so far this year, there’s one style that’s notable in its absence.  It’s the one page gag story collection.  These are often run in anthology magazines like “Journal Spirou” or “Bamboo Mag” before being collected in albums all their own.

They’re fairly quick reads, worth a few laughs, and heavily themed.

Josephine consults a professional

“Josephine” belongs in this category. It’s a collection of short slice of life stories centered on a 30-something single woman, Josephine.  (The stories are apparently autobiographical to some degree.)  It includes the kinds of themes you might expect in such a series:  She’s incredibly hard on herself in the relationship department.  She has the “perfect” sister who gives her a hard time.  Her mother isn’t any easier to deal with. She’s neurotic with her relatively short-term boyfriends.  She hates her body, but gym memberships never work out.  There’s never anything to wear, etc. etc.

Josephine is, in short, a neurotic mess with fairly common hang-ups.  She’s occasionally self-destructive.  She rarely learns from her mistakes.  And you worry that her negative self-image will doom her.

She’s “Cathy,” but far less annoying.

She’s also much more sympathetic and likable.  You want to root for her. because many of her neuroses are perfectly understandable.  She is self-aware enough to put the reader at ease that she’s not completely self-destructive.  No matter who you are, or what gender you are, you can’t help but see a slice of yourself in her at some point in the book.  (And if that’s a very thin slice, then good for you.  The rest of us are more neurotic.)

Many of her issues are caused by those around her, whether it’s the judgmental colleagues at work, the snooty sister, or the uncontrolled construction workers with their cat-calling.  She recognizes the situations they put her in, and she fights against them, though often in smaller ways.

Josephine doesn't like going to the gym.

Bagieu pushes Josephine as far as she can without making her nasty or whiny.  You’ll root for her, but you won’t pity her. You know that anything good that happens to her will likely be undone, as much because of her personality as the need for a quick punch line.

And nobody really likes going to the gym, anyway.

 

The Art Stylings of Penelope Bagieu

Bagieu does all the visuals in the book, herself, from the writing to the art and the coloring. The English translation comes from Christina Cox-de Ravel with lettering from Studio Charon. As with “Blank Slate,” Studio Charon uses a font to approximate the feel of Bagieu’s hand lettering, though it’s not in script.  It still feels like you’re reading someone’s diary.

Her art style is also similar to what it was in “Blank Slate,” which I reviewed here previously.  It’s very loose and cartoony.  There’s not a straight line to be found, even in the backgrounds.  If you look around too much and start getting nit-picky, you’ll see “flaws” that are really just stylistic choices. Like Josephine herself, I find it all utterly charming.

Josephine doesn't know what to wear.

She also doesn’t attempt to glamorize Josephine.  She doesn’t always look like she just put on all the right makeup and clothes before heading out of the house.  In fact, lots of pages in the book concentrate on how imperfect she is, or what she does when nobody’s looking. It feels more real that way, like we’re seeing something that normally would be hidden away.

And, yes, this includes some topless scenes that are the least sexual things you’ve ever seen drawn in a comic.  This is not voyeuristic in any way, it just feels honest. Whether it’s about her fumbling around looking for the right clothes to wear, or comparing her body to the other women at the beach, it’s all in the right context.

 

How Comixology Sells the Series (UPDATED November 2017)

Quick Update: You can skip this section.  Since writing this review at the beginning of the year, the two services now line up.  Both are selling “Josephine” as a three album series.  Comixology no longer breaks it down further into half-books for half the price. For historical purposes, though, here’s how things once were:

Be careful in how you buy this book. There are two different ways of getting the material.

First, there are the more traditional 60 page albums.  Three volumes collect the work, in total, each at $5.99.

Josephine collections for $5.99 on comiXology

To make the material more “approachable” to the North American audience, it’s also broken down into six issues, each one with a half album’s worth of material (30 pages).  Those cost $2.99 each:

Josephine single issues for $2.99 on comiXology

Buy it whichever way you’d like.  You get the same material for basically the same price.  I bought the first “collected edition” because it was on sale a few weeks back.  After that, it’s the same price either way.  I’ll probably continue buying the “collected editions” in the future, because I’m an old fuddy duddy.  As digital comics, it doesn’t make a difference.

The only confusing thing comiXology did is to force a superhero image onto the first “single issue”, when that was actually the cover to the second album (or “collected edition”). I get why they would do that. Superheroes sell comics in North American, and this auto-biographical comic from a woman in France needs all the help it can get, statistically/marketing speaking, in this market.

 

Recommended?

Yes!

I love the gag-a-page format.  It gives you something easy to pick up and read for whatever time period you happen to have available.  Sure, you can sit down and read the whole book, but you can also fit in one or two pages if that’s all you have time for.

Bagieu’s point of view and honesty in her pages makes “Josephine” an engrossing read that you’ll want more of as soon as you’re finished with one book.

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #18.)

 

The Movies

Thanks to John in the comments below for mentioning that they made two movies out of this series.  You can see bits and pieces of gags from the first book (like the passing cat call) in the trailer for the first movie:

 

YouTube will likely play the second trailer for you immediately afterwards.  The movie looks watchable, but as someone who can barely read any French, trying to understand spoken French that fast would kill me. Netflix doesn’t have either movie. I’d watch it with closed captioning….

Buy It Now

Buy this book on Izneo Buy this book on Comixology

 

Izneo.com Preview

 

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