Review: Petty Theft, by Pascal Girard

I have a slight confession to make: I do not handle awkward moments in movies and comic books very well. I always have this urge to put a book down whenever the main character does something unbelievably awkward or dumb, and I have been known to pause or walk away from movies if I know something super awkward or embarrassing is going to happen. Unfortunately for me, awkwardness is the backbone of Petty Theft.

Petty Theft is my first experience with any of Pascal’s work. Published by Drawn and Quarterly, it clocks in at 104 pages of black and white comics, with a pretty watercolor cover with flaps. I got my copy at TCAF this year after it being recommended to me via this blog, when I posted my “To Buy” list for TCAF, and I’ve been reading it off and on amongst all of the comics in my inbox.

In Petty Theft, Pascal is in a bit of a bad spot. He has just broken up with his girlfriend of nine years, and he’s staying at a friend’s place while he tries to move forward. To make things worse, the running he is doing to get his mind off of the breakup is suddenly put on hold when he hurts his back. To keep his mind occupied, he heads to a local bookstore and gets wrapped up in a case of book thievery.

One of the strengths of Pascal’s work is his ability to pick out tiny moments in his life and inspect them the same way you might inspect a strange-looking bug. His incidental storytelling is all rooted in the mundane things, which makes it easier to connect to the characters as presented. That being said, there is a navel-gazing quality to Petty Theft which I dislike. Pascal makes this autobio exercise seem very self-indulgent.

Still, Pascal is able to make me laugh. In one scene he is invited to a spinning class and ends up biking by a guy with huge dreads. Watching him avoid the giant hair and then try to fake his enthusiasm for the class with a girl he has a crush on is simultaneously funny and cringe-worthy.

There are a lot of cringe-inducing moments in Petty Theft, and obviously that’s kind of the point. Pascal picks at himself in the old tradition of self-depreciating comedy, and does it in a way that shows how self-inflicted these situations often are. But it was hard for me to connect with the narrative when I was putting the book down every time Pascal got into an awkward situation.

I feel conflicted about Pascal’s page construction. Each panel is a self-contained image without borders. This lends a sparseness to his work that is echoed through his illustration style, and I think it really worked for Petty Theft. It also had the tendency to make each panel feel very isolated and unconnected to the rest of the whole.

Pascal’s storytelling and sense of drama are really fine-tuned, and I would tentatively recommend Petty Theft to people who were interested in autobio comics; however, this book was pretty difficult for me to read. I suppose being embarrassed for a character in a book or movie means you’ve connected with that character and his or her story resonates. But I certainly don’t enjoy that feeling.

Pascal Girard maintains a tumblr at monsieurpascalgirard and Petty Theft is his third book with drawnandquarterly. You can find a preview and more information at Drawn & Quarterly’s website. You can support Sequential State on Patreon here – I hope you consider it. Your help makes this website possible!

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