Ordinary Victories, Vol. 1 by Manu Larcenet

I may have this wrong, but here goes: Ordinary Victories is a series of four somewhat autobiographical bande dessinees by French cartoonist Manu Larcenet, originally published in French from 2003-2008 and published in two omnibuses in English soon afterward. The current English-language editions are back to being published individually, and seem to only be available in electronic formats. Their main character is a photojournalist named Marco Louis, and in the course of this first book he meets a woman, Emilie, who has a longer-term relationship with. (I also saw the second omnibus way back when, and wrote about it for ComicMix.)

At almost the same time – as in, starting the previous year, 2002, and putting out five volumes through 2008 – Larcenet also started a more specifically autobiographical series of books, Back to Basics, which he did with Jean-Yves Ferri. (See my posts on Back to Basics volumes one and two .) Basics features “Manu”, who looks almost exactly like “Marco” in Victories, but who is actually a cartoonist. Manu’s partner, “Mariette,” also bears a very close resemblance to “Emilie.”

I have the very strong suspicion that Victories is only very slightly less autobiographical than Basics, though it’s in a much more serious mode: this is more of a soul-searching “what should I do with my life” kind of story, while Basics is a lighter “moments from our crazy life out in a goofy rural town” story. I also think that Victories is largely about the years before Basics: they don’t tell the same story, or tell it in the same way, but, together, they tell two phases of Larcenet’s life.

So all that was in my head as I read this first book of Ordinary Victories : wondering how much of Manu is in Marco, and how much of Marco I could retroactively read into the Manu of Basics. But they are separate projects, in different genres: they may show complementary views of one life (or, maybe, they really don’t, and I’ve misunderstood), but they are still each their own things.

Marco is around thirty. He’s had a solid career, on the dangerous and unpleasant side of taking pictures professionally, but is on an extended break from it. He’s been seeing the same therapist for years, and thinks he’s “better” enough to stop now. But he’s starting to have panic attacks, for no obvious reason. This is the story of how he starts to move on from that moment – perhaps even more, he has to get to a point where he wants to move on. He has to see something in the future that he wants to change for, to move on from smoking “Big Fat Joints!” with his brother and thinking about how he used to work as a photographer.

Along the way, Victories is mostly a slice-of-life story. Marco sees his brother and his parents, he meets and starts dating Emilie, and he semi-regularly runs into an older man who lives near his new rural cottage. I’m not sure at all if this “rural” is the same “rural” as the Ravenelles of Basics – this could be two different ways of looking at basically the same move, or two stages of getting further away from the bustle of the big city. Or, again, they could be two different stories doing different things with some of the same material from Larcenet’s life.

By the end of Victories, Marco finally is ready to move out of his comfortable box. I won’t say why, or how – the way to learn that is to read the book. But he does it, and he does it in an interesting, believable way, and we the readers want to see Marco succeed: maybe not go back to being a photojournalist, but to find something to do with the rest of his life. And I plan to see how that plays out in the next book, and, probably, to re-read the back half of the series again a decade later to find out how Marco ends up and see how that all hangs together once I’ve started from the right place.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

* This article was originally published here


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