Factory Summers by Guy Delisle from Drawn+Quarterly tells his story of summers working in the Quebec City paper factory while going to art school. Delisle is well known for his autobiographical tales, such as Even More Bad Parenting Advice, which showed misadventures of fatherhood. Family also plays an important role in Factory Summers, as Delisle explores his relationship with his industrial designer father who has worked at the factory for decades and seems more devoted to drafting than to his kids. Overall, however, the reader sees a very different perspective, that of the young man experiencing the growth that comes from working a tough job.
Factory Summers is organized into “chapters” corresponding to each year of Delisle’s experience in the paper factory. It begins at the beginning with his interview, shows details of the paper manufacturing process, and concludes as Delisle searches out a summer job in animation, with the factory as his backup plan. The money is good, especially for someone just starting out and with a nearly blank C.V., but the conditions are hard. Delisle takes great care detailing the trials of working around gigantic machines that deafen workers and threaten to tear off an arm if one gets too close. They are finicky and require constant care, almost more like beasts than mechanical devices.
The best part of Factory Summers is the snippets of Delisle’s coworkers. As in any factory job, crews come together to complete a shift and then vanish into their mysterious lives. The manufacturing floor collects a motley crew of people willing to work 12-hour shifts with only a few hours’ notice. Delisle learns tricks that make tasks take only seconds instead of minutes from some old-timers while standing agog at others who do not even bother with safety equipment. When a piece of the roof falls to the floor, a coworker responds that it was lucky it didn’t not fall into a machine. Delisle notes that he was more worried about someone’s head, and the coworker shrugs, “Oh, yeah.” There are guys who hit the gym even after their exhausting shifts, use the break room as a soapbox for their philosophies, and organize an informal nap schedule to give each other downtime.
The art style in Factory Summers follows a more rigid layout than Delisle’s previous Bad Parenting Advice books, which suits the story themes well. Most panels are blocked in by bold, black borders while others open up to the gutter, mirroring the summer days of a rigid work-life although Delisle never knows when shifts will be. Everything is in grayscale, which delivers a sense of drabness, even heaviness, to the experience of working a factory floor, except for one yellow-orange color that stands out. It is often used for Delisle’s shirt, making him the focus of the visual scene along with the narration, but it also highlights the clouds, sunrise, and factory smoke in the sky, hinting at the bright future to come for a kid working his way through a hard time toward a career in art.