Petty Theft continues the adventures of Pascal Girard, the author’s hapless doppelganger we last followed in Reunion, a small-chinned cartoonist suffering from a deficit of self-esteem and social awkwardness. In short, he could be just about every protagonist in just about every other graphic novel. So what makes Girard’s comical sagas worth traipsing through? Why, Girard himself.
The fictionalized Pascal is now fresh out of a nine-year relationship, couchsurfing with friends and contemplating a new path in life. Exercise has always been his outlet of choice, and with his thirtieth birthday on the horizon he dreams of running a half-marathon to help ring in the big 3-0. Of course, things don’t go quite as planned and he injures his back while out on a jog, removing his treasured intake of runner’s high endorphins and allowing his daily anxiety more time to wreck havoc on his self worth.
It doesn’t help that the past is staring him the face – literally – by way of a giant paper mache head of his ex from a Halloween party. That and books – boxes of Pascal’s collection (most comics) that she continues to ship to him without mercy. Pascal’s ex is absent here but her presence is felt everywhere, her spectre (and giant head) haunting his nights and causing no end of discomfort.
While his friends insist he start drawing again Pascal is more nonplussed, suggesting he put his “sheet metal apprenticeship certificate” to good use and show that even a struggling cartoonist with little experience in the field might easily land a job as a sheet metal worker. What harm could ever come of that, right?
While perusing the local bookstore for a good post-breakup book he overhears the proprietors talking about a number of unexplained thefts. It’s there he spots Sarah, a cute blond carrying a large bag with a suspiciously noisy zipper. When the bookstore hosts a luncheon to help support a local author, Pascal spots Sarah pocketing a book (his own, “Bigfoot”) and realizes he’s found the thief.
Not one to lose the chance, he plays amateur detective (i.e. stalker), eventually tracking her down to a local cafe where she works as a waitress. What follows is an endearing, if predictable, courtship that showcases Girard’s ability to elevate familiar material above the mundane and forgettable.
Girard crafts his tale in the same panel-free layout and clean lines that have become his trademark style. He has a real gift for pantomime, smartly letting the story flow through his playful pictures alone whenever possible. The text is clear and readable, thanks to a great translation (from the French) by Helge Dascher – a name familiar to readers of Guy Delisle’s autobiographical graphic novels. It can be a Herculean effort importing the cultural and idiomatic differences from one language to another, but Dascher makes it work.
I appreciated the tale’s whimsy and gentle humor, but it was disappointing to see there was no discussion about Sarah’s kleptomania (she insists she’s only ‘borrowing’ the books, justifying her theft by asserting she’s the bookstore’s best customer). I often wondered if Pascal was so emotionally damaged he’d willingly suffer the injustices of her ‘little issue’ out of fear of being alone, even going so far to risk breaking the law and relationships that seem a lot healthier.
But that’s not the type of story Girard is telling in Petty Theft; the rationale is right there in the title – what’s a little larceny between lovers? Pascal’s struggle with purpose and yearning for love is lighter fare, an easily accessible slice-of-life comedy we’ve seen countless times before, especially in graphic novel form. But Girard is a storyteller skilled in the ways of presenting self-deprecation without pandering, and that alone makes this – like his previous books – worth a look.