Guy Delisle is best known for two kinds of comics: travelogues, where he works (often in animation) in a lesser-known country, such as Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, and parenting comedy. Factory Summers, which is due out in mid-June, is a surprising change of pace.
It’s a memoir, a story of three summers of manual labor in a paper mill, before he gets his first animation job. He’s a teenager, and he draws, in straightforward, simplified fashion, the various men he meets, many of whom are defined by one particular characteristic, and who drift in and out, including his father.
It reminded me of Michel Rabagliati’s Paul series, in part because of the Canadian setting, but more because of its young white male protagonist biding time while waiting for his “real” life to start. There are lessons that can be drawn from this, but it requires the reader to think them through, as Delisle simply gives us a portrait of what he did, monotony and all.
I found two things distinctive about this book: the first, most obvious, is the monochrome black-grey-and-white enlivened by pops of … I don’t actually know what to call this color. Marigold? A light yellowy orange? It’s mostly used for our protagonist’s shirt, so we can find him in the dingy factory, and the smoke that comes from the mill. It’s eye-catching and helpful to the reader.
The second may be a bit spoiler-ish, so avoid this paragraph if that concerns you. There are various points that in a more dramatic book could be foreshadowing for some kind of disaster, either physical or psychological, but none of them come to anything. There is no grand event here, no huge, life-changing occurrence. It was refreshing, in a way, that nothing of that type occurred. That reinforces the aggressive sameness and tedium of the work, giving the reader more of the shared feeling of the time Delisle is portraying.
Many of us have a time in our past where we remember and think “I’m glad I don’t have to do that any more.” If you’re lucky enough not to have to work this kind of job while figuring out what you really wanted to do, you can experience it as “I’m glad I didn’t have to do that”.
Factory Summers, with a cover price of $22.95, can be preordered now from your local comic shop with Diamond code MAR21 1229. (The publisher provided an advance review copy.)