Reading Michel Rabagliati’s graphic novel, Paul à Quebec, feels like a real immersion. The opening scene takes place on a highway in Quebec with Paul’s French-Canadian family. And for someone who’s never been there before, there’s so much to take in: the peculiar road signs written in French, weird tourist traps like parks with fake dinosaurs, billboards advertising local poutine restaurants, and much more.
There’s also something about how the characters in this story talk. They’re definitely speaking French, but a French that incorporates familiar anglicisms like: “you know,” “cool,” or at times, “oh shit.” A real subtle introduction to the idiosyncrasies of North American French—for those of us tired of reading the senseless dribble that passes for authentic dialogue in so-called québécois textbooks.
It’s like being invited to stay with extended family for a period of what feels like several years that go by way too fast (I mean this in a good way). We follow Paul and his family to the suburbs of Montreal to purchase a house, we meet his in-laws, we meet his friends and his literary agent (whose style of franglish is guaranteed to make you laugh). We go through all of life’s motions with him to include wrestling with the death of a very close family member.
Because the book is so well-grounded in absolute realism, the experience does not feel like it belongs to just Paul, and instead, feels like it belongs to all of us. We laugh, we cry, we get frustrated (there’s this scene where Paul gets hilariously caught up in trying to set-up his computer), and we live what feels like an real authentic French-Canadian experience.
For those of us trying to learn French (or even travel to Canada without having to leave our living rooms), this book is a definite must-have. Added bonus: it’s not one of those boring language textbooks, this is a fun graphic novel to read.