by Marc Delafontaine and Maryse Dubuc
“Jenny and Vicky are super-cute, super-catty girls who would do almost anything to be the centre of attention. The third wheel of the group is the too-tall, plain Karine. When a guy named Dan shows interest in Karine, Jenny and Vicky are appalled and will go to any length to thwart the competition.”
A very strange one this, strange but good. A series of one and two page connected gag strips of the ultra bitchy goings on in a group of teenagers from the French-Canadian husband and wife team of Dubuc and Delaf with Delaf providing some marvellously exaggerated and remarkably expressive artwork throughout.
The Bellybuttons are three teen girls; so called presumably because of the ongoing vogue for showing just that little too much skin these days. (And if I seem a little too buttoned up and horribly old fashioned when I’m writing about this I hope you understand that my little girl just turned 10 and I live every day in dread of what teenage years may bring). Jenny and Vicky are the popular ones, obsessed with boys, desperate to fit in, desperate to be the most desirable, most noticed girls in the school. Their friend Karine is everything they are not; too tall, too thin, too clumsy, too sweet, too kind, completely lacking all self-confidence. In short, exactly the sort of friend the other two like to keep around for the times they need to feel superior and all powerful. Karine suffers greatly at their hands.
But in Karine’s suffering we get a lot of laughs. Bellybuttons is cruel, heartless and often downright nasty, but it never forgets to be funny and often manages to be remarkably bitter-sweet as well.
(Karine’s special Valentine’s moment – look at those tears – about to be ruined by those two “special” friends of hers. From The Bellybuttons by Delaf and Dubuc.)
There’s a guilty feeling to the enjoyment though, a slightly unnerving aspect of the book, should we really be enjoying it that much? Is it a little too close to the bone? Certainly there are moments when the sexuality that is always bubbling just under the surface of the work (and quite often bubbles over) seems a little too much – these are, after all, schoolgirls we’re reading about. But it also has the inescapable feel of something that reads true. We may not like that our teenagers think like this, talk like this and behave like this, but they do and The Bellybuttons captures it very well indeed. That we may wince slightly as we read it is probably only because it is a little too true.
So watch as Vicky and Jenny foil Karine’s hopes to be with Dan, the only boy in school to prefer Karine to the two bellybutton-gazing friends. Watch as they shamelessly torment their friend over her lack of popularity – and deliberately sabotage her when she does find that friend, get that valentines card or make that first date. You’ll be smiling and wincing on nearly every page.
(Sometimes the two girls just go too far – swiping a diary and reading it is bad enough but deliberately sabotaging Karine’s one true love is horrible. But it does show just how good Delaf is at getting those expressions right – the anger, the jealousy, the cruelty all come through in the artwork. From The Bellybuttons by Delaf and Dubuc.)
It’s a very funny and surprisingly sweet book that makes pains to end on a positive and hopeful note. Karine may have been a loser, her friends may be shallow and successful, but by the end we know how it’s going to eventually turn out, perhaps many years from now – it’s going to be Karine who finds happiness whilst her friends languish in their past popularity and beauty. Or at least that’s what I hope. After all, I don’t want to be living in a world where a nice kid finishes last. I’ve got my very own nice kid to think of.