Ever feel pressured to have fun on a holiday? Certain holidays are worse than others for sure. It used to be just New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day forces pressures for party-going, but now Cinco de Mayo has inched up and even Halloween pressure has become more prevalent. As a low key person, those holidays can be a nightmare and I’m happy to celebrate each of them quietly at home.
Same for Christmas, though that’s not so unusual. But there is something militant about the demand that we embrace Christmas celebrations, whether it’s Republicans bitching about not observing Christmas the right way or commercial interests shoving canned-music carols down our throats in October or well-meaning office parties demanding jollity when you just want to meet your deadlines.
If you feel even remotely similar, Joylandia understands. By combining holiday distress with dystopian fiction, French cartoonist Tronchet, with the help of superior translation by James Hogan, crafts a hilarious holiday farce filled with twists and turns, chaos colliding cleverly, and devilish social commentary amidst the careening comedy.
It’s a world with squads called Joy Divisions patrolling the streets and measuring for merriment in passersby, even as they barge in on private Christmas parties to ensure everyone has entered into the spirit of the season.
Enforced Christmas jollity is not the only point of authoritarianism. There’s also a frantic fear of germs that means sure arrest and incarceration for a publicly sneezing person and a ban on sports that leads to round-ups of secret cadres of athletes. This is all the doing of the President in a reactionary bid against his invalid life of constant suppositories. He just wants joy. Who can blame him?
It’s these dire circumstances that bring together the fates of Rene Poliveau and Arlette Champagne, both guests at an enforced Christmas gathering that features awkwardness on Rene’s part and confrontational rudeness on Arlette’s. He can’t help but find her intriguing. But it’s that attraction that sends things in motion, bringing forth squads of fixated bringing to justice the rebels who are trying to unseat the President and his oppressive seasonal glee.
Poliveau becomes the object of law enforcement and gains the attention of rebel groups when he intervenes to help Arlette, and that sets into motion a chain of events that involve crazy chases and several regime changes. It seems that each succeeding president must pick a new holiday for society to center itself around, and each time this happens, the crazy chases become even more absurd and the holidays themselves become obstructive to any state other than chaos.
By using holidays as political constructs for social order, Tronchet has picked the perfect affectation not only to characterize ruling regimes but qualify the support of the people. Often, it’s not that political rule changes from something bad to something good, but from something the same to something different, and that can steer what citizens think of any leader or government. We see it play out often enough. Witness the scary shenanigans of Trump causing some liberals to downplay the misdeeds of George W. Bush and transform into a plushie version of a Republican president who started a fake war.
Tronchet’s work here is hilarious. The tone reminds of me of the film Delicatessen, with a little bit of Gilliam’s Brazil thrown in for good measure, and Tronchet’s wit is so quick and so clever, so attuned to setting plot points of for laughs as well as forward movement, and really approaching the humor itself with the same sophistication as the story or concepts within that I think these comparisons are good indicators of what you’ll encounter in this book. Comedy inevitably has moments where it falls flat, and it’s a special creation that never stumbles — Joylandia is definitely one of those.
John Seven is a journalist and children’s book writer living in North Adams, Massachusetts. His books include ‘A Rule Is To Break: A Child’s Guide To Anarchy,’ ‘Happy Punks 1-2-3,’ ‘Frankie Liked To Sing,’ and others. Find out about all his things at johnseven.me.