The origins of cartoonist Guy Delisle’s The Handbook to Lazy Parenting probably sounds more exotic and sophisticated in its original French (Le Guide du Mauvais Père), but don’t let that fool you. Lazy Parenting, Bad Dad…call it what you will, but Delisle’s whimsical anecdotes of what it takes to be a father in today’s world translates without much in the way of cultural conversion. Thanks for this goes to, once again, the translating team of Helge Dascher and Rob Aspinall. Merci beaucoup!
This new – and presumably final – collection of comics and illustrations is small but mighty, even though you’ll probably breeze through it faster than it takes you to read this review. Regardless, it does close out the “bad dad” series on a high, despite being infrequently published here in the United States; the last volume, Even More Bad Parenting Advice, came out in 2014. What didn’t help was that none were connected with each other with proper numbering (as the French editions were). I blame bad labeling for this, but I can’t blame bad comics, because these are great comics.
If you’re at all familiar with previous volumes (and you should be) then you’ll find this collection immediately familiar with the format and content; Delisle omits panels entirely as he jots two to three “panels” per page, sometimes with text and sometimes without. As someone trained in the visual art of animation he’s able to convey more with simple expressions and exaggerated looks than most cartoonists ever could with endless dialogue, proving once again that good parenting skills (and heroic failures) are familiar the world throughout.
And like his unmistakable style, one of the most charming aspects of the “Bad Dad” series has been the total and complete focus on Delisle’s children. Fans will recognize them from his more serious works, especially later volumes like Burma (2008) and Jerusalem (2012) where he’s left to raise his son and daughter in foreign lands essentially alone. And once again, he manages to buck that horrible trend of rendering dads as inferior caretakers or imbeciles. But those who’ve followed the series – and Delisle’s published career – probably guessed, those kids couldn’t stay kids forever, despite how much Delisle wanted them to.
I almost feel guilty for having to give examples as Delisle’s tiny cartoon vignettes almost feel too precious to describe. They certainly have that unmistakable je ne sais quoi fans will recognize, making him an ideal guide through the ins and outs of raising kids as best you can. One should never mistake simple for simplistic – there’s great wisdom here for those who accept not just Delisle’s “advice” at face value, but the idea that parenting itself is a crap shoot; sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. But generally you do, so make the most of the time you’re still in charge while you still can.
But since you want examples, here’s some examples. As Delisle navigates modern parentage in his inimitable way we see him (and him alone – his wife is a non-entity here) tackle some of parentings most pressing issues, which includes helping his daughter get into the best school, remembering not to lose track of them while shopping for art supplies (harder than you might think), and even being conscripted to “help’ create an advertisement for his kids’ school’s open house.
Even that (now) tired trope of kids having to explain iPad games makes an appearance, as does the one about getting the “right” parent to sign a teacher’s note. The secret? Shameless appeals to artistic vanity and manipulation. But you probably won’t mind seeing them again when they’re this adorable. Some “good” advice comes when Delisle explains to his son about what’s in store for him as an adult, that with maturity comes the psychological realization that you’re no better than anyone else. What makes this otherwise ego bursting revelation is that it also applies to everyone else, too. The message is sobering, yet somehow still refreshing. “We’re all equally stupid.”
Drawn & Quarterly bills The Handbook to Lazy Parenting as the series’ “final tribute”, which probably means we won’t be seeing any further volumes from Delisle, especially now that his kids are fully grown. This is addressed towards the end in a few too-short panels guaranteed to bring a few sniffles to both longtime fans or any parent who’s ever experienced that inevitable, yet still shocking moment of realization that your children have grown. Which, of course, means you’ve done your job correctly. With luck there may be grandchildren in the future, meaning we get to start this adventure all over again. Bad Grandparenting? Make it happen!