The Distracted Parent
The jackets and covers of all three volumes of the Mauvais Pete series have a consistent theme. In all of them, the narrator (Guy) is immersed in media while ignoring his fatherly duties. This sometimes results in rather serious consequences. This is an especially prominent theme given the role covers have in Franco-Belgian bandes desinees (BD) in attracting readers and setting a book’s theme and narrative ambitions (Groensteen 2007). In the front jacket illustration of the first volume (Delisle 2013), Guy is reading a book, a steaming mug at his side. He is unaware that his young daughter, Alice, is reaching out her hand to touch an iron. On the front cover, the scene has changed: the mug is lying on the floor with a puddle of liquid beside it and the iron is on the floor. It looks like Guy and his daughter have left in a hurry to tend to the daughter’s injury. In the second volume (Delisle 2014), he is watching what appears to be a violent and loud film on TV while his children are peeking from behind a door that is slightly ajar. Later in the narrative—on the cover—all three are asleep, the dad on the couch and the two kids on the floor beside the door. In the third volume’s front jacket illustration (Delisle 2015a), the dad, his daughter on his shoulders, is approaching a doorway staring intently at a tablet or phone. On the cover, the daughter is sitting stunned on the floor with Guy’s foot just about to disappear from view. Other jacket and back cover scenes show the dad playing a video game or pushing a stroller with his headphones on, unaware of his son saying: “Look, Dad! A flower.” In another scene, he sits at a cafe with his son strapped to his front in a baby carrier. This scene of paternal intimacy is subverted by the newspaper the dad is reading, which is covering the baby’s face. In only one of these scenes (Delisle 2013, 1) is the dad visibly at work, sitting at a drafting desk ignoring his children’s calls from outside the scene.
This dynamic is also central to the opening story of the series. In the story, titled “The Tooth” (Delisle 2013, 3-23), the dad forgets twice to exchange a tooth his son has placed beneath his pillow with a coin. In both cases, the father’s media consumption is implicated in his absentmindedness. In an opening scene, the son approaches his father to verify that the exchange of tooth for money will indeed take place. The dad, depicted in front of his laptop, promises it will indeed take place, and by the time the son reacts enthusiastically, he has already turned back to his laptop. Then, on consecutive nights, the dad and mom slump in front of the TV. On the second night, apparently binge-watching, Guy asks his spouse whether they should “watch a third [episode]?” Only after twice forgetting does Guy remember to carry out his tooth fairy duties. Another story titled “Punctuality” (Delisle 2014, 178-191) is set in the kitchen. In it, Guy’s son, Louis, sits his backpack on his knees while Guy is drinking his coffee and reading the paper. Guy dares his son to stay cool and be late for school but ends up being stressed out himself. In a bonus image offered to buyers of the third volume of the Mauvais Pete series, Guy is studying his phone while his two kids struggle to carry their bursting school bags (Delisle 2015b).
All these graphic narratives constitute a perceptive inversion of the literature on parental mediation. While that literature focuses on how children’s immersion in media distracts them from family interactions and suggests that parents take proactive steps to divert children’s attention away from media consumption, these narratives suggest that frequently it is the parents’ immersion in media that distracts them from interactions with their children. While this dynamic could be generalized to apply to many families, it might be especially prominent among parents who produce culture for a living and are therefore especially invested in the media they consume. Its prominence might be heightened further by the difficulty culture-producing parents have in demarcating their work from other aspects of their life in space and time. It is to these two themes in the work of Guy Delisle that I will turn next.
-  All translations are my own except in the case of “Burma Chronicles,” for which I referto the English translation (Delisle 2008).