More Tales of Boys and Their Games

Garage Band

This will be out in a few weeks. It’s one of the first releases out of the third wave of books from First Second, although this wave will be handled a bit differently than before - it’ll actually be two books per month, starting in April, until all six are out. So this is one of the April books. Being a First Second release, it’s a compact, elegant softcover with flaps, $16.95 for 128 color pages.

English-only readers might be familiar with Italian writer/artist ‘Gipi’ (full name: Gianni Pacinotti) from his continuing series Wish You Were Here, published by Fantagraphics/Coconino Press as part of their Ignatz line of fancy pamphlets - the two extant installments are The Innocents and They Found the Car. I’ve only read the latter, but it’s good, tense little crime/suspense piece that greatly benefited from Gipi’s delicate visual mix of sharp-edged character art and swirling, monochrome shades, as well as an anxious working-class sensibility.

Both of those elements are heightened in Garage Band (originally published in French under the title Le Local in 2005), which adds plenty of dewy and overcast watercolor (lots of samples here), and spreads its character interactions even farther across a more basic plot. The book is divided into five chapters, five ‘songs’ (perfect for a graphic album, eh?), each one bearing something of an individual tone. Together, they track a short while in the lives of four Italian teens who’ve just obtained access to a fairly shitty but nonetheless real garage where they can play their music, a place where they can not so much escape their family lives but process them into music, a temporary independence from the more immediate concerns of their situations.

Among them are Stefano (lead vocals), a proud boy and a presumed troublemaker, eager to prove his worth in the world after his dad gives him a special break. There’s also Alberto (bass), a sensitive lad who’s close with his mechanically-inclined, ailing father. Then Alex (drums), immersed in his fascination with Nazi aesthetics after being left to the mercy of his class-conscious mother and aunt, after his own pop skips town with a cache of embezzled cash. And finally Giuliano (guitar), an well-off fellow with a nice girlfriend who often feels scrawny and indistinct, and whose distant, successful father loaned the boys the garage, on the provision that they behave. They do not, as is to be expected.

I’m sure you’ve already picked up on the book’s fascination with fathers & sons, which Gipi uses mainly to illustrate how the pressures of family drive young men to find a place of success and self-sufficiency, perhaps to make sense of the lives they’ve lived that far. And these are quick, often deftly minimal illustrations at that - it’s impressive how much Gipi chooses to say entirely through Alberto standing by his father and smiling, or how comprehensively Stefano’s pressures in life are sketched out through a little speech by his dad over dinner. It doesn’t always succeed -- Giuliano’s poor girlfriend has absolutely nothing to do but look pretty and tease out insight as to her boyfriend’s emotional state -- but at its best it provides just enough fuel for the book’s resonance to really take hold. Even small sequences, like a tense encounter with a black metal group, are enlivened through a winning sense of generosity with revealing character interactions.

And character-based resonance is really the point here. Even the book’s nominal plot, concerning some desperate small-time theft, is really only there to assist in filling out Gipi’s portrait of youthful anxiety, although the too-pat ending ultimately detracts from the overall feel. Still, this is a gratifyingly nuanced book in terms of character, and obviously the product of an artist sensitive to the balance of words and pictures that must be struck - this is beautifully presented in the ‘musical’ portions of the story, where Gipi’s captions dispassionately explain what our young characters’ songs are about while all of the surface content to carried through pure visuals, his lines and colors growing oh so slightly more furious as he presents boys playing like it’s the only thing worth doing. That’s all that’s needed to say, and Gipi, accordingly, says no more.

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