Suddenly Something Happened

By Jimmy Beaulieu

Perhaps as a way of compensating for a long history of being associated with superheroes and fantastic tales, a lot of today’s comic books and graphic novels take as their subject matter the mundane, local, and everyday, with autobiography in particular being a favourite form. Suddenly Something Happened is just such a book, an English translation omnibus of a couple of autobiographical graphic works – Le Moral des Troupes and Quelques Pelures – by Montreal-based author Jimmy Beaulieu. In some ways it is also a new work, however, as translator KerryAnn Cochrane was given a free hand in rendering the text into English and Beaulieu has added a dozen new pages as well as done some rewriting

The story tracks Jimmy’s move from Quebec City to Montreal, following his romantic entanglements and budding career as a comic artist in a series of slice-of-life, pencil-sketch vignettes. Beaulieu is especially adept at capturing urban landscapes and locations, drawing the street life of Canada’s sexiest city crowded with beautiful women. As the cover art – which has Jimmy casting an appreciative glance at a woman striking a winning pose – makes clear, this is one young, urban, progressive male who is not ashamed to be always looking at the “life impulse,” “reproductive instinct,” and “joyful lustiness” that surrounds him. And, as his alter ego suggests at one point, this penchant for always drawing pretty girls may be another form of compensation.

Both the physical and emotional texture of the book have an authenticity brought home through the observation of details ranging from architecture, to the way clothes look when they are really being worn, to the rendering of numerous small, domestic sound effects. One odd habit that doesn’t seem quite in keeping with the realistic and understated tone of the rest of the work is Beaulieu’s penchant for exaggerated, cartoonish reaction shots of characters’ eyes bugging out, but this is only a minor thing. In every other respect, and despite the shifts in drawing style that might be expected of a decade’s worth of work, this is a convincing and charming self-portrait of the artist as a young man.

Review first published in Quill & Quire, March 2011.

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