Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Foxing Reprints #19: Max de Radigues

Rough Age, by Max de Radigues. Belgian cartoonist Max de Radigues is one of the more secretly influential cartoonists of the last half decade. As a resident cartoonist at the Center for Cartoon Studies, he often collaborated with Chuck Forsman, the future publisher of Oily Comics. They did a broadsheet anthology called Caboose that set the standard for a now frequently-used format for comics publishing. De Radigues' thin, fragile and expressive line was also a clear influence on Forsman's own nascent cartooning style. Both cartoonists seemed most at home drawing stories about teenagers and their daily struggles that seem so epic in scope. De Radigues also self-published a bunch of eight page minicomics calledL'Age Dur, which translates out to "Rough Age". He repeated that format with another series called Moose (soon to be collected by Conundrum Press), and both of these series had a direct influence on Forsman publishing in much the same way with Oily.

Rough Age's transition from a series of brief but related minis to a single collection is seamless. Stripping away the titles of the original stories, de Radigues nonetheless creates a beautiful storytelling rhythm by varying a six-panel grid with a gridless two-panel stinger that concludes each story. In the original minis, these served as the back cover. De Radigues has an uncanny understanding of teenage romantic politics. A kid declares that if a ball goes in the basket, he'll get a date with his crush. Instead, someone picks a fight with him and he winds up elbowing her in the eye. Another story featuring a detention has what seems to be a magical, shared moment between a nerdy boy and a beautiful girl, until he discovers that it's not his shared moment. A boy gets in hot water when he pretends he has a "Canadian girlfriend", and he's treated with some care by one of his friends to help him out with his lie. Later, lies he made up about two other girls come back to haunt him. In the funniest sequence of the book, two boys seem to be talking about which girl is more likely to put out, until we learn that they're talking about trying to copy physics homework.

Band politics, break-ups, shifting friendships and intrigue between and among the sexes are all fodder for de Radigues' gentle but unsparing sense of humor. There's a great deal of empathy on display for all of these characters, but he certainly doesn't let them get away with anything. The dot eyes on his boys and the big, almond-shaped eyes on his girls perhaps betray a bit of his own lingering sense of mystique about women, but they are certainly drawn and presented as entirely three-dimensional characters.

Bastard #1, by Max de Radigues. This mini, printed on canary-yellow paper, starts with familiar de Radigues details (a young woman getting take-out, a young man recognizing her and inducing an awkward scene) that would seem to be more of the usual kind of story from him, and quickly turns all of that on its head. We quickly learn that the woman has a son, and that since she was recognized, she has to move. Once again, the genre of the story is vague. When he takes out a bag full of money, we finally get the reveal: they're on the run and have done something criminal. From there, de Radigues has a great time balancing road trip tensions with the sweetness of the relationship between mother and son, all while slowly revealing crazy detail after crazy detail. By the end of the issue, when they both bleach their hair blonde, the reader is left with a thousand delicious questions. That said, the real charm of this comic is the way de Radigues introduces levity to break the tension by way of the remarkably nuanced and detailed relationship between mother and son. The fact that the likes of Sacha Goerg and Lewis Trondheim each draw a guest page in the story only adds to the appeal of the comic, and its sense of bigness. Indeed, if de Radigues was a big influence on Forsman, Bastard shows that Forsman had an influence on de Radigues as well, given the road trip and sense of danger.

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