Are you a cat owner? Do you miss when social media was 90% cat photos/memes? Do you just love four panel comics full of Schadenfreude? Then do I have the French comic for you.
Written, Illustrated & Colored by Jean-Luc Deglin
Translated by Edward Gauvin
Lettered by Tom B. Long
When a mysterious mewling package arrives in the mail, one busy young woman’s life changes forever. Rascal lives up to his name, filling every day with wild adventures and long naps: brave expeditions into closets, fierce battles with curtains, and wrestling with slumbering giants… Sometimes she’s tempted to throw him out the window. He’s lucky he’s cute.
Over 128 pages, Jean-Luc Deglin paints a purring portrait of one unforgettable black cat, an elegant inky swirl in a world of striking blue tones. Hilarious and heartwarming, exasperating and enchanting, Rascal captures the full range of emotions that come with keeping God’s cutest killing machine as a pet.
If you love cats, or dream of having one, this book is dedicated to you. Once you bring Rascal into your life, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without him.
Pet comics are kinda a comfort food for me. If I’m ever feeling down or aimless, all I have to do is track one down and my day is instantly brightened. There’s a pure charm to the antics of pets, especially when recounted by clever cartoonists. They can capture the wonder of a moment and instantly shatter it, releasing a tension that wasn’t noticeable until it was gone. It takes skill to balance the heartwarming and the hilarious without coming across as cloying or overdone. Thankfully, “Rascal’s” central dynamic is strong and the pacing exceptional.
“Rascal” is entirely composed of one-page window panel comics that tell the story of Rascal, the unnamed main character’s mother’s neighbor’s cat whom she is coerced into adopting after having him left on her doorstep in a box for a week. It’s a somewhat horrifying start to their relationship, and perhaps explains Rascal’s propensity for biting the hand that is feeding it or the nose of the one who is not paying him not enough attention in the middle of the night, but that frantic note perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the comic. There’s a darkness to all the humor but never enough to overwhelm, and almost certainly never left to linger long enough to overshadow the moments of simple happiness.
This ebb and flow happens across pages and provides the moment necessary to make it through “Rascal.” It’s a true testament to the subtle storytelling of the book. Rather than making the entire thing joke after joke after joke, Deglin breaks it up with silent comics that have the main character steep in the difficulties of working life or act as a balm to those difficulties. Not everything needs a punchline and not every punchline is at the expense of the main character. Sometimes it’s on Rascal and sometimes it’s more general than that, but it’s always in service of forming a life rather than a series of gags. In a book, as opposed to a more serialized format, that kind of variety makes certain that it doesn’t lose steam midway through, building with each new entry into the lives of the main character and Rascal instead.
Over the course of “Rascal,” the relationship between Rascal and Deglin develops from a point of hostility to, eventually, a point of gradual understanding and mutual messing about. It’s easy to make parallels to my own cats while still being able to laugh at the peculiarities of Rascal that make him more than just a collection of cat tropes.
Deglin’s use of the 4-panel windows is part of what makes it all work, too. There’s a rhythm to each page that, thanks to the regular layout, trains you to read each page in a particular way. I found myself pausing just a little longer before reading the fourth panel, where the punchline always was, as if I needed the anticipation to allow it to hit that much harder. It was totally unconscious but it made my enjoyment of the book that much greater.Continued below
I should also talk about Deglin’s cartooning itself. The limited colors, or, well, color, firmly places the book in a specific auto-bio tradition despite being a work of fiction. On the creation end, it helps give illustrations depth without having to spend time fussing about with color, which could have distracted from the story & jokes being told or just taken away from the creation time. The choice of a robin’s egg blue gives it a coolness that softens the book in a way that a simple B&W drawing wouldn’t, highlighting the warmer, funnier nature of the book. The darkness isn’t oppressive but rather melancholy. It also allows Rascal to stand out in every panel he’s in. A shock of black against the white and blue.
Rascal also provides a contrast to the rest of what Deglin draws. Deglin’s line-work isn’t fussy, emphasizing outlines and just enough environment to provide a sense of space. This allows for jokes that use framing to mess with expectation in subtle or less than subtle ways. Deglin also makes sure that no one is static, keeping the book in motion, even if that motion is small and human or tiny and feline.
Simple and charming, “Rascal” will bring a smile to anyone’s face and I cannot think of a better way to spend an afternoon than reading all about his antics one more time.