Okay, Universe by Valerie Plante and Delphie Cote-Lacroix from Drawn+Quarterly tells the story of Plante’s journey into the world of politics. Long before she was the first woman elected Mayor of Montreal, Plante was a civic-minded citizen wanting to see good furthered in the world. Through this pseudo-autobiographical narrative with art by Cote-Lacroix, the story unfolds to give a peek into how politics happens.
In Okay, Universe, Simone Simoneau is a woman looking for more. Chatting with friends, she tells them she is in a hurry to change the world. How, exactly, is the question, which Simone poses to the night sky, “Okay, Universe. I’m ready for a new challenge!” That challenge comes as phone call from organizers with the Action/Reaction Montreal municipal party seeking Simone as their candidate for city council. Answering the call, Simone dives into the arduous journey of changing minds to change the city.
Okay, Universe provides understanding of the behind-the-scenes work in politics. Often people will picture candidates giving speeches to big crowds waving posters. This may be part of it, but the real work is talking one-on-one with people and finding funds. Simone begins with an interview by the party managers and directors, serving much like a job interview since it is a position with an organization seeking to use its resources well. Simone is responsible for a large share of resources, too, drumming up campaign contributions from her contact list and, especially, time as she pounds the pavement and speaks on radio interviews.
While Simone is her own driving force, volunteers are instrumental to the campaign. Okay, Universe gives special attention to the people working tirelessly through their own volition through “Portraits of a Volunteer.” Each of them receive bullet-point descriptions that humanize the cheerful faces, such as immigrant Mateo inheriting a dog from his great-uncle, artist/activist Claude collecting campaign posters, and student Lucie singing with a seniors choir to relax. These, along with amusing shots of insight like Simone’s advice to “breathe in, breathe out” before speaking, give warm pathos to the very human tale.
Graphic narrative serves as a perfect way to convey the story. Cote-Lacroix’s use of water color and playful caricature makes what could be a numbing topic not just palatable but delightful. Comics has long been a successful medium for biographies, and the visual transitions are practically seamless as the months-long tale fits neatly in just over 100 pages. The panels give a smooth pacing that slows down moments of intensity to give the reader their emotional impact. Montages show Simone’s efforts at campaigning door-to-door or waiting to hear results, highlighting while never feeling sped-through. Throughout the book, landscapes showing the city serve not only to show off the art but also the beauty of the city, drawing the reader to feel that love of one’s world.