How to survive middle school in a creative way

by Valeria Righele

Breaking out of so-called “normalcy” patterns during adolescence can result in increased exposure to bullying. The four main characters in The Misfit Clubpublished in Italy by ComicOut: Martin, Edwige, Erwan and Fred are four middle school students, fraternal friends, constantly targeted by their peers for their alleged diversity.

Martin, short and chubby, lives alone with his depressed father after his mother’s death; Edwige, a math geek, worries about her family’s financial problems; Fred dreams of breaking into the world of metal music and, despite his parents, dyes his hair green, with his nails day and night; finally Erwan, the brains of the quartet, always dressed as a little gentleman.

After The dressing room by Timothé Le Boucher, ComicOut has thus chosen the Swiss author’s work Cati Baur – released in France for Rue de Sèvres in 2021 – to return to deal with bullying at school told in comics. The Misfit Club is an adaptation of the novel by the French author Martin Page with the title Le club des inadaptés and came out about ten years ago. Baur stayed true to the story, but reworded the club’s general information (which was originally male-only) to make it easier for the story to spread to a wide range of pre-teens.

misfit club cati bauer

The variety of endings on the title – an attempt to make the overextended masculine more inclusive – unfortunately fails to achieve the desired neutrality and remains limited to the gender binary without overcoming it. The Italian translation struggles to extricate itself from this reasoning and faithfully reports the cumbersome punctuation “”. In the end, a more extreme “maladapt *” would have made the marginalization of the youth described here better.

Together they define themselves ironically”misalignments” (in original “inadapté.es”) and to protect themselves from the gaze of others, they set up their headquarters in a cabin hidden in the forest, where absolute freedom of thought and action applies. Fred clumsies, Erwan fumbles with his new inventions and so on. In this cozy place, they try to convince themselves that life doesn’t stink, that their school problems will one day end. And the days go relatively quietly for a while, until when Erwan is not attacked in the street and ends up in the hospital.

After the attack, the boy stops going to school and locks himself in the house to heal his physical and psychological wounds. “Why always us? Why are we bullied, insulted, beaten? What do we get sick? Why do our parents die? Who is out of work?” he asks himself despairingly towards the end of his convalescence. What his companions do not know is that he is actually thinking of taking revenge with his very personal fantasy: he wants to create a “equalization machine“Able to redistribute misfortune and restore equality among all.

misfit club cati bauer

Despite Martin’s doubts and warnings, Erwan installs his invention in the school, and suddenly bizarre events begin to affect the most popular students. Is it a coincidence, a self-fulfilling prophecy, or is Erwan’s strange machine really restoring equality among all students? Martin, Edwige and Fred don’t know what to think anymore, but they stay close to him like adorable little musketeers.

With the support of Christophe Bouchard for color, Baur develops in his usual soft, sober and orderly line, complex issues such as school bullying and its consequencesunemployment, grief, depression and even – with the nonconformist figure of the teacher Bonasera – alcoholism.

The register is positive and comforting, and while the author offers no miraculous cure for bullying and the disordered functioning of the school as a “microcosm” of human society, the result is a light and moving cartoonwhich effectively communicates to younger readers how friendship can be the best bulwark against imbecility.

The Misfit Club
by Cati Baur
translation by Boris Battaglia
ComicOut, June 2022
paperback, 96 pp., color
€16.50 (buy online)

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