Saturday, 11 October 2014

Book Club Report: A Discussion with Pascal Girard on Petty Theft

The Comic book book club we belong to is an interesting group. We all like reading, but for each member, reading the same book brings a multitude of different interpretations, especially with regards to the subtlety imbued by the particular language of the book. We’re located in Ottawa, Canada’s national capital, and live in a bilingual environment. Almost 40% of the city’s inhabitants are bilingual. English isn’t even my first language, it’s French. Most of us are working, living and reading in both languages.

The book club met to discuss Petty Theft, as we normally do every month. There usually is a sense of fun and anticipation before the meetings. We’ve had a month with our book, we`ve each read it and have had an appropriate amount of time to think about it. This month our discussions proved to be especially significant as it was a special event for the Ottawa Comic Book Book Club: we had the pleasure of welcoming Pascal Girard to discuss his newest graphic novel Petty Theft. He gracefully accepted to join us for an evening to talk about his book, his characters, his process, language, family and construction work.

Pascal is a French-Canadian cartoonist. His Tumblr bio informs us that he was born in Jonquière, in Saguenay (the town with one of the weirdest mayors in Canada, Jean Tremblay). He loves drawing and running and he's in love. This biography relates to the themes of his newest English book Petty Theft. Pascal has written more books in French such as Conventum, Jimmy et le bigfoot, Paresse, as well as some other collaboration work and children's books. Three of his French books have been published in English through Drawn & Quarterly.

Language was at the forefront of our minds when we met with Pascal. We were all very eager to discuss how Pascal's writing may be influenced by language. He mentioned that while he didn't think it affected his first translated book, as he hadn't even considered it, it certainly had while writing this book. It may not have been a conscious consideration, but more as a result of integration and internalizing the idea of a second language and a wider audience for his books.

The title is also quite surprising as Petty Theft is actually called La collectioneuse in French. We noticed it did affect our reading of the book. The English title immediately frames the girl as a thief. It leaves little doubt to interpret her actions. She steals, and therefore is a thief. However, the French title leaves room for more ambiguity. She is a collector. Her actions, although criminal, are somewhat more justifiable as she is not framed as a thief from the get go. Pascal did explain that there was a long process with Drawn & Quarterly to determine the best translation for the title. Choosing to translate word for word "collector" wasn't as close to "collectioneuse" and therefore wasn't as meaningful. In the end, Petty Theft was selected and only those few who know the two titles can determine how this affects them.
Pascal & Kids
Fatherhood is also an underlying theme in this book, not by showing exactly what it meant for the protagonist, but by providing clues into his thoughts. The main protagonist panics and is uncomfortable in the presence of children. Although this doesn't reflect the values of the author, it does affect how we can interpret his character. We have a man who, underneath the pretense of finding his way and true love, doesn't really see a relationship evolving to the stage of parenthood. Now this could be a choice, but when we add the facts that he aims to right the wrongs of the thief, it reveal a very selfish character.

Mental VS Physical labour

The book begins when the main character falls and gets injured while he is out for a run. Forbidden from running, down on his luck and with a broken heart (his girlfriend and him having just broken up), he ends up also reinventing his career. He stops drawing and goes back to construction work. This created an interesting parallel between the physical labour of construction and the mental (and creative) labour typically associated with art. The protagonist`s body having changed, so must his psyche. This created yet another layer in a seemingly easy-to-classify character.

By the end of our meeting, we gained perspective on a multitude of topics: language, fatherhood, characterization, etc. Pascal Girard helped us gain some perspective on Petty Theft and unlock elements which revealed further interpretations and depth to the story. There was so much more to discuss and some of my fellow book club members may wish to add to this in the comments, but we all felt tremendously satisfied reading this book. We'd highly recommend it. 

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