Almost Summer 3 by Sophie Bédard

The third volume of Almost Summer follows the ups and downs of a gang of teens who are about to graduate from high school. With CEGEP just around the corner, the stakes are high. Emily’s mother wants her to study science, while her sidekick Michelle fails math, but shrugs it off. It doesn’t matter because she’s going to study early childhood education anyway. Anthony thinks he’ll study social science to keep his options open, while Max hasn’t got a clue. He refuses to put on a mortarboard for his graduation photo because it would involve removing his beanie and who knows what lies below! This year, Max is more interested in Noémie who’s creating a wall-sized mandala and waffling over studying art.

The release of this third volume of Almost Summer follows on the heels of volumes 1 and 2 published in 2017. The Almost Summer series is the work of comic artist Sophie Bédard, who at the age of 19 did the unimaginable. Just a year after graduating from CEGEP, she published not one but two volumes of the very popular Glorieux printemps [Almost Summer].

I asked Bédard why the change in seasons in the English translation. She said, “I didn’t like the ring of Glorious Spring in English. I liked Almost Summer because it evoked waiting, and during our teens, we sometimes have the impression that our life is on hold. Nothing moves very fast. We have plenty of interests and aspirations, but we’re hemmed in by the fact that we’re still just kids.”
The first two volumes of the French-language series went on to be nominated for a Bédélys and a Bédéis Causa award, two prominent prizes for Quebec comic artists.

The series is set where Bédard grew up in La Prairie on Montreal’s South Shore. In fact, Emily, Michelle, Anthony and Max all go to the same high school as the author attended, La Magdeleine. Don’t be surprised when you pick up a copy and recognize places like the Dix30 on the pages of volume 3. As for the inspiration for her characters, Bédard said that they are composites of herself and some people she went to high school with. In the author’s words, “They’re a happy blend of both.” But if she had to pick the character who most resembled her as a teen, it would be Emily in her everyday life. However, Bédard becomes Michelle when she goes out with friends and has a few drinks.

In the Almost Summer series, the two main characters couldn’t be more different. Emily is a serious student with a strict mother, “No phone calls after 7:30 pm,” while Michelle (aka Mimi) is impulsive, melodramatic and silly, just like your average teen! Michelle has a series of crushes, but decides she’s met her “soulmate” when she sees him playing soccer, and it’s his calves she finds most attractive. Emily has a secret crush that she entrusts only to her diary, which Michelle has no qualms about reading and shamelessly reporting to anyone willing to listen. Nevertheless, the characters of Emily and Michelle complement each other. Emily needs Michelle to bring some fun into her life, while Michelle needs Emily to keep her in line and do some studying. Anthony lives with his grandmother, and he actively pursues Emily, regardless of how many times she bluntly rebuffs him. He’s been friend-zoned. They both work part-time at the same flower shop, which adds further hilarious annoyances for Emily. Then there’s Max who has a wandering eye. He can’t decide which girl he likes. It all depends on which girl he sees first.

Unlike volumes 1 and 2, some seriousness and maturity creep into the characters in Volume 3. Anthony asks Emily to go for a walk with him to visit his mother’s grave, while Max finally removes his beanie and buys some much-needed shampoo. Emily begins to think for herself and about her future rather than just obeying her mother, and Michelle finally has a chance with her “soulmate.” The dialogue is perhaps the best feature of the Almost Summer series, and volume 3 in particular. It’s funny and accurately depicts how teens talk to each other, with Emily and Michelle delivering the best quips. The teen reader will find the characters’ situations and reactions both realistic and entertaining.

Although there is little for the gang to do in their suburb, there is still plenty of action, and the story moves forward at a brisk pace. Bédard’s drawings are compelling and have a strong clean line throughout. What is more, one cannot help noticing that the characters’ expressions, especially Michelle’s, have a strong manga feel.

I asked Bédard about her influences in terms of story and drawing styles. She said that she was inspired by manga authors Ai Yazawa, Kyoko Okazaki and Kiriko Nananan, particularly in terms of their pacing, and their focus on the feelings and silent moments of their characters.

Bédard’s interest in making comics intensified when she was studying Graphic Arts at the CEGEP du Vieux Montréal. As a teen, she’d had a webcomic about her everyday life, her friends and school. “I published comics on a blog so that my friends could see them and comment on them,” said Bédard. Incidentally, the author has also twice been nominated for the Joe Shuster Award “Best Webcomic Creator.”

It was through her webcomic that she came across work of other Quebec comic artists. Then, while at CEGEP, when she was just 17, Bédard signed up for a comics workshop given by two well-known Quebec bédéists, Jimmy Beaulieu and David Turgeon. As part of the workshop collective, Bédard published a few strips and then concentrated on longer stories. Once CEGEP was over, in addition to working as an illustrator, she began work on what would become Almost Summer, which was picked up by Pow Pow before Bédard had even finished inking it.

Although a date has yet to be set for the release of the final volume of Almost Summer, Bédard explained the story focuses on Emily’s and Anthony’s family issues, growing up in less than perfect circumstances and learning how to stand up to their parents. Bédard said that it was important for Anthony to remain in Emily’s friend zone. The author believes that friendship between young men and women should be celebrated. Since it is also the final volume, the gang bids adieu to high school and expands their horizons to Montreal, where a number of scenes unfold.

Sophie Bédard has recently finished a university degree in sexology. She hopes one day to be able to combine comics and her field of study. How she will do this still remains a question. The comic artist is currently working on her fifth book, a graphic novel about young adult women, which will also be published by Pow Pow. Ideally, she hopes to complete this book some time in the fall. Until then, all her other projects are on hold. Finally, it would not be overstepping to say that Bédard has had quite a successful run. Now bear in mind that she has yet to celebrate her 27th birthday.

Almost Summer 3
Sophie Bédard
Translated by Helge Dascher and Robin Lang
Pow Pow Press

This feature is cross-posted at the Montreal Review of Books (mRb).


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