On Gentrification & White Slackers

Over some 200 pages of stark black & white graphic art in her new graphic novel “UTown,”  CAB (a/k/a Caroline Breault) tells the story of a neighborhood losing the battle against gentrification. Originally released bi-weekly on CAB’s’ website from December 2019 to May 2022, the graphic novel is scheduled for release this July on Oni Press (Simon & Schuster). Loosely based on “a string of real events” (author’s words) that took place in Quebec, UTown is also the story of a group of people who live in a reclaimed “abandoned” space slated for demolition. I approached this text with a lot of excitement: gentrification, artists, the battle for a neighborhood, and great art by a woman artist – what’s not to love? Yeah, I was disappointed. However appealing he may be in his own loser-wannabe-artist way, the protagonist Sam is fairly uninteresting. I’m not really drawn in by another story about a privileged white twenty-something guy who’d rather get wasted than do something real with his life. (And yeah – that’s me being very judgy). More interesting are some of the supporting characters including the older women who run and support and tend a subsistence garden in the reclaimed space. The secondary character – Edwin – a young Queer teen who tries to “save” Sam from himself but thankfully (and perhaps unbelievably) allows himself to be saved by one of the women in the community – ending up far from UTown – happy in high school with a boyfriend and a future. The coffee shop owner (Étienne) is basically a stand-in representative of a “bridge” character – someone who moves in during early gentrification and doesn’t “get” the community. He’s a “bad” guy but redeemable and while he’s kind of a jerk, he’s also a responsible adult and actually tries to give Sam a chance to make some art. Sam – of course – uses the advance Étienne pays him for his art to throw parties and get wasted – big surprise. While I found myself frustrated with the lack of depth of some of the female characters, the fact that I wanted to get to know them better shows CAB’s potential as a writer. And I did wonder throughout if UTown was a white-only neighborhood given the lack of any non-white characters (?) But the art’s phenomenal – the stark black and white lines perfectly portraying the grittiness of the urban landscape. A worthwhile – albeit flawed – read with great art. 






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