Thursday, July 25, 2013

A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting


A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting is a short and hilarious collection of parenting vignettes. I am quite familiar with Guy Delisle's work on travelogues such as Pyongyang, Shenzhen, and Burma Chronicles, where he is quite serious and excellent at observing and reflecting on various countries and their politics. These books are available worldwide in multiple language editions.  I had no idea he was such an excellent gag cartoonist as well.

The small size and layout of this book are reminiscent of a paperback collection of newspaper comics from the 1970s, with a couple of images/panels per page laid out top to bottom. A typical page looks like this:

Probably not a good idea...
The format contains comics that show some questionable and often hilarious parenting situations. Delisle is muddling through parenthood, and he is by no means a perfect authority figure, but he owns his foibles. As a father, he seems very idiosyncratic, alternatively honest and duplicitous with his children. He offers them advice and information, with the intention of being helpful, but sometimes he comes off less than favorably.

For instance if your young daughter has swallowed an apricot pit, perhaps drawing a flip cartoon of a tree growing in her body and then out of her mouth might not seem so funny or comforting to her:

Not at all horrifying.
Or if you were coaching your son to hit a punching bag, you might not offer this advice:

Still, these words are very effective.

Delisle also takes some glee in playing pranks on his kids, wanting to give them experiences to remember for a lifetime:

Also, not at all horrifying.

He can also be selfish and tricky, such as when his daughter wants to try his special Canadian breakfast cereal:
Mmmm additives!
The artwork is relatively simple and iconic, and I think his background in animation shows in the  straightforward storytelling. His story structure is masterful and relatively simple. Even when the tales move over the space of multiple pages he sets the reader up for different emotional beats and punchlines. Impressively, his stark linework conveys the warmth that comes from small, honest moments. Delisle might be a crappy dad sometimes, but he has love and concern for his children. He is trying his best as a father, I feel, and it is refreshing to see such humor and candor conveyed so clearly in an autobiographical comics story.

Reviews I have read about this book echo the enjoyment and positive features I have described above. NPR's Glen Weldon called it "brighter and funnier" than his other work, and added that this book "shares with his previous work a keen appreciation for the clash of cultures; this time, however, the cultures in question are those adults and children, and the damage that ensues is played for a rueful laugh." Boing Boing's Mark Frauenfelder described it as "funny and truthful." Jeff Bouchard, "a father of two young children...found A User’s Guide to Neglectful Parenting to be relatable and a lot of fun," and he noted that you do not necessarily have to be a parent to enjoy it.

A User’s Guide to Neglectful Parenting was published by Drawn & Quarterly. There is a sizable preview at Publishers Weekly.


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