Book Review: Memoirs of a Man in Pajamas by Paco Roca

This is not a new graphic novel by Spanish cartoonist Paco Roca. Instead, it’s a compilation of archival autobiographical comic strips created for two Spanish newspapers starting in 2010, supplemented by a few short stories. The strips were previously collected in three Spanish editions published between 2011 and 2017, but this hefty 232-page Fantagraphics compendium combines those volumes plus extra stories for their first arrival on our shores.

Unlike his other published works, Roca is the star of the show this time around. His strips take us through his amusing daily struggles as an artist successful enough to work on comics full time from home, but not so affluent that he can rest on his laurels. The title refers to his standard work-from-home attire, the dream wardrobe of pajamas. Each strip serves up amusing tidbits of his life, showing his interactions with his long-suffering wife, his struggles in social settings, and his surprising knack for observational humor.

Roca portrays himself with comically big cartoon eyes, unlike anyone else in his orbit, playing up his expressions as he mugs his way through various situations. His strips are in full color and exhibit his typically assured, clean lines, albeit a bit looser than his finely polished graphic novels. The material is similar to Guy Delisle’s Parenting trilogy and Dupuy and Berberian’s Monsieur Jean books, domestic bliss in comics form as viewed through the eyes of immature men.

The format of the strips changes after his transition from the Valencian newspaper Las Provincias to weekly Spanish news magazine El País Semanal. The early strips are presented in 12-panel grids, one strip per page, but after his move they change format to 18-panel grids spread across two pages. The latter format is preferable since the panels and text don’t feel as cramped, but both formats work well for his autobio material.

In some of his final strips, he drifts away from amusing anecdotes about his daily grind in favor of social justice musings on common targets such as the wealth inequality gaps being driven by a handful of the world’s richest men, the scary amount of data big tech collects on all of us, and the wrongness of inflated pharmaceutical profits. Those strips get to be a bit heavy and preachy, as if John Oliver had suddenly taken over a breezy sitcom, but as they appear near the end of his run they likely portray his disillusionment with easy laughs and desire to break away from his biweekly strip commitment.

His bonus short stories stand amongst his best work, ranging from a touching chance encounter with an old flame immediately after his wife gave birth, to his difficulty getting away from a boorish fan intent on becoming his best friend, to a hilarious dream encounter with his ‘80s past self and ‘30s future self. His seemingly humdrum, secluded existence as a stay-at-home artist proves to be stuffed with material for humorous anecdotes. 

While the new book doesn’t add to his distinguished record of memorable long-form graphic novels, it does offer insight into his home life, creative process, and character traits, crafting a charming portrait of the artist. It’s a lengthy read, but his writing is timeless and universally relevant, making it all feel like fresh material even more than a decade after the strip’s debut. Think of this as a bonus track while we wait for his next groundbreaking album, an illuminating, comedic look at Roca the man, not just the artist.

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Steve Geise

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