Friday, 21 September 2012

New Yorker covers by Chris Ware (2009-2012)

I have recently discovered, on this website, several wonderful covers drawn by Chris Ware for the New Yorker. I already knew two of them, which were included in the beautiful, and over-sized, Acme Novelty Library 18 1/2. I saw the other ones for the first time.

Once again, I was deeply impressed by the amazing quality of Chris Ware's art. Everything is thoroughly thought and minutely drawn: the compositions are really powerful, the drawings are superb and colors are very subtle and rich.

Each covers tells a story in itself. A simple glimpse at them makes us discover a part of the lives of the people on them or, more generally speaking, a specific element of our modern Western society.

In a way, these covers remind me of some Edward Hopper's paintings. Of course, they differ in many ways: Chris Ware's very precise art looks different from Edward Hopper blurry, more or less impressionistic, painting; and Edward Hopper mostly depicted lonely people whereas Chris Ware's covers are very often rather crowded (but nowadays, where can we be more lonely than in a crowd? which is more or less the central topic of many Chris Ware's stories, from Jimmy Corrigan to Rusty Brown). But both of them use pastel shades to describe typical scenes of present-day American way of life. Their paintings look very silent to me, very calm; but at the same time, they are very meaningful; each one of them makes me feel like stopping for hours in front of it, to enjoy fully its silent beauty and to try and fathom its subtle mysteries.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

A Chinese Life, by Li Kunwu and Philippe Ôtié (2009-2011; 2012)

The Chinese people have lived, during the past few decades, many extraordinary upheavals which cannot be easily fathomed by any Western person: the arrival of the Communist Party at the head of the State (1949), the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), aiming at improving significantly Chinese agriculture but responsible for the starvation to death of tens of millions of people; the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), in which the then Chairman of the Communist Party, Mao Zedong, created a revolution against his own ruling comrades, an unbelievable turmoil during which everything was constantly changing, political power was passing from one faction to another at an incredible speed; the cult of personality surrounding Mao Zedong and his death (1976); the shift from a Marxist economy to an ultraliberal one; the metamorphosis from an underdeveloped third World country to an economic giant and a political superpower; the rise and fall of the hope for a political change in the Tiananmen Square...

Chinese people have lived through all this. And I must admit that I have always been unable to figure out what these people think of their own history, how they feel about their country, about their leaders, about the evolution of their society.

Here lies the great quality of A Chinese Life. Li Kunwu is a Chinese artist whose father took part in every phase of the Chinese Communist Party since the Second World War. Based on Li Kunwu's memories, Philippe Ôtié, a French writer, drafted a storyboard that was drawn by Li Kunwu himself. This close collaboration was successful and the resulting graphic novel is very pleasant to read: The story is clear and easy to follow, even for someone not specialized in Chinese history (whereas the historical events told are very complicated...). Li Kinwu's art, with a strong influence from his Eastern formation, is original and nice.

A Chinese Life may not be a great masterpiece but it gives a fascinating insight into how it can feel like to have led a Chinese life for the past few decades.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Adolf, by Osamu Tezuka (1983-1985; 2012)

At the beginning of his career, Osamu Tezuka was specialised in comics for kids, with well-known works such as King Leo, Metropolis or Astro Boy, all of them with a deep influence by Walt Disney. But, from the late 50s, a new kind of manga, the "gegika" (or "dramatic pictures"), more adult-oriented, began to have much success, lead by the great Yoshihiro Tatsumi (whose autobiographical A Drifting life was released in 2009 by Drawn and Quarterly). Tezuka could have been overwhelmed by this new kind of comics. But he reacted with all his talent and published stories for a more mature audience, with more complex plots, more violence, some sex, etc. All this with as much, if not more, commercial and artistic success than before.

Nonetheless, two things did not change in Tezuka's latter works: their very high quality and their underlying philosophy. Tezuka combines a deep faith in humanity, stressing out in all his works the importance of the necessary respect due to any living being, and the frightful conviction that men can be extrememy harmful for the people and the environment around them.

Among the (numerous) masterpieces of this second part of Tezuka's career, Message to Adolf may be, with Black Jack, one of the most easily accessible to Western readers. Firstly it is deeply rooted in historical events well known to Europeans or North-Americans: it takes place mostly during the 2nd World War, beginning in Germany during the Berlin Olympic Games and ending in Israël, some time after the creation of this State. There is a single hero, whom we follow during the whole story, Sōhei Tōge. The plot is relatively simple, compared with many characters, places and times of Phoenix; there is not as much Oriental metaphysics as in Buddha.

Message to Adolf was one of the first works by Osamu Tezuka to be published in English, in the mid 90s (in 5 volumes). It is published once again, in two volumes.

For those who have not read this masterpiece yet, this new publication (even though the new cover is rather badly chosen, in my humble opinion) could be (must be, should I say) a good opportunity to discover this book. Even if Adolf may be less idiosyncrasic for Tezuka than Phoenix, for instance, it includes all of the main qualities of Tezuka's works: great storytelling, very innovative layouts, strong humanism, very good insertion of fictional characters and events into important historical facts, etc.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

New pages from Fabrice Neaud's "Diary"

Fabrice Neaud has not released a single volume of his famous (at least among French-speaking good comics lovers...) "Diary" since 2002. For the last 10 years, he has published only a few short stories from his Diary in various magazines or compilations. (Plus two full length books; but in the first one, he was only the artist, not the writer; and the second one, a science-fiction book, is only the beginning of a potentially long saga...)

So it is very good news to hear that his publisher, Ego comme X, has decided to release each week new unpublished pages extracted from his Diary from 2003 and 2004.

What can we discover in these new pages? As usual, should I say (but any "usual" thing by Fabrice Neaud is extremely good): beautiful art, interesting thoughts on literature or modern society, a few anecdotes about his sexual life (by the way, it is for mature readers).

Unfortunately, it is only in French. But it is nonetheless a good opportunity to discover new and beautiful art by Fabrice Neaud.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Inception, by Christopher Nolan (2010) and Barbarella 3, by Jean-Claude Forest (1977)

To most, if not all, English-speaking people, the name Barbarella will evoke nothing but a science-fiction movie, starring Jane Fonda (not always with a lot of clothes on…). But, at least for some French-speaking comics addicts, Barbarella is, first and foremost, a fantastic 4-volume comics saga, by the great Jean-Claude Forest. In my humble opinion, Barbarella is much better than You are there, probably the only book written by Jean-Claude Forest (but drawn by Jacques Tardi) now available in English (it was published by Fantagraphics in 2009). Barbarella is a science-fiction saga, whose heroine wanders through the galaxy in her spaceship, without fear and with a lot of curiosity. She encounters many incredible living beings, fantastic and poetic. When the first book was published, in 1964, it created some scandal and was banned by censorship because it was considered as very erotic; times have changed and the sexual component of these four books is much less shocking than nearly 50 years ago...

Some time ago, I read again these comic books. When reading the third one, Le Semble-Lune, initially published in 1977 (and translated by Heavy Metal as Barbarella and The Moon Child the year after), I was very surprised to discover that the plot was very similar to that of a movie I had seen a few weeks before… Inception, by Christopher Nolan.

What is Le Semble-Lune about? Barbarella gets a mission of a very special kind: she has to introduce herself in a certain man’s dreams to steal him a secret… Which is more or less the central concept of the whole Inception concept. And that is not all: Barbarella spends some time living with the man she loves in the world of dreams. She does not want to go back to the real world any longer. She goes alone in an isolated place, where the sea is very present and where her lover comes to find her back. Both of them go always further down into multi-layered dreams; they even venture to the last layer of dream, just before the great unknown (a kind of Limbo), from where nobody ever came back. And a part of the story is about a child... I cannot help estimating that the similarities between both stories are very impressive...

Could it be only some kind of coincidences? Or some clichés that it is possible to discover in many different science-fiction stories? Or could there be a real influence of Barbarella on Inception, in a direct or an indirect way? I am not completely sure. But if any of you has some idea about these surprising similarities, please let me know…

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Diario de guerra, by Alberto Breccia (1960-1961; 2009)

It is very difficult to get hold of comics by the great Uruguayan artist Alberto Breccia. Or, should I say, it is difficult to get them in Spanish (his native language) or in French, very difficult in Italian or German and nearly impossible in English or any other language. So it may appear as a pity that the latest publication of some of his works (released in 2009), should be constituted of such minor works as Diario de guerra. But let's be clear: even on these minor works, Alberto Breccia displayed an amazing talent, if not the incredible genius he would show in most of his later works, from Mort Cinder to Dracula, through Perramus and Buscavidas.

Diario de guerra is a Spanish compilation of four war stories drawn by Breccia, initially released in specialised comic books in Great Britain in 1960 and 1961. Their writers are unknown and they are adapted from popular novels. However very conventional, the plots are quite pleasant to read. But the strong point here, and the reason why these very classical stories deserve not to be forgotten, is Alberto Breccia's art. At this middle stage of his career (he was 41 at this time), he is a true master of realistic drawing. He can draw anything in an excellent way: warriors and femmes fatales, planes, trucks and boats, Asian jungle and French countryside, intimate conversations and frightening explosions or accidents... All this with the right level of realism and movement. In these pages, two main elements were already beginning to escape from conventional realism: quite often, Alberto Breccia was using expressionistic ways to increase the suspense or the acme of the story: weird angles, exaggerated shadows, etc.; besides he loved dwelling on wrinkled faces, especially those of elder men.

This is only the beginning of what he would be capable in his later works. After more than 20 years of conventional drawing, having reached a great level of mastering in realistic art, he will develop much more original and experimental techniques: fantastic expressionism (inspired by famous German film-makers such as Murnau or Fritz Lang), inclusion of photographs, cut paper, colour painting, caricature, etc. During the following 30 years, this never-ending experimentation would give birth to numerous masterpieces, all worth being read and read again...

But this is another story...

P.S.: You can get much information about Alberto Breccia on this website: It is in French but it contains many images, which can easily be enjoyed without understanding the language...

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Kamui-Den, by Shirato Sanpei (1964-1970)

Shirato Sanpei is often dubbed as the first Marxist mangaka. It is true that his masterpiece, Kamui-Den, whose publication began in the since then very famous magazine Garo in 1964, can be read as a long (6,000 pages) story of class struggle in feudal Japan. All the layers of the Japanese society of the Edo period (1603-1868) are depicted and the numerous injustices of this society are heavily criticised. The social movements of the Edo period are described with much precision and accuracy. We understand quite well the numerous and complex mechanisms in place to maintain an oppressive society: how the Shogun oppresses the warriors (they are obliged to spend every two year in Edo, the capital, so that the Shogun can easily keep an eye on them); how the warriors oppresses the peasants and the pariahs (they do all what they can to increase the division and the hate between peasants and pariahs lest these two classes of poor people join their strengths to overthrow the ruling classes); how the merchants develop their wealth thanks to the weaknesses of this feudal society. Furthermore Kamui-Den was considered by Japanese students in the 1960s as a perfect flagship for the numerous revolts of the time. All this is true.

True but not enough. Kamui-Den and Shirato Sanpei are much more than this. Kamui-Den is a breathtaking, beautifully drawn epic and Shirato Sanpei id one of the greatest manga artist I have ever read.

Kamui-Den is the story of a rural Japanese region during the Edo period (1603-1868). Many characters are involved, from various social classes. The three main ones are Kamui, the pariah, Shôsuke, the very clever son of a domestic in a peasant village and Ryûnishin, the samurai, whose family will be killed as the aftermath of complicated clan struggle. The three of them discover progressively the complexity of the Japanese feudal society and all the injustice it includes. They will have to fight the a prioris of the whole society, including their friends and families, to live the lives they want.

The art is absolutely gorgeous. From magnificent landscapes to various animal scenes, from face-to-face discussions to demonstration scenes, Shirato Sanpei looks very good at drawing absolutely any kind of scenes. Many panels, especially those of fights, are really breathtaking.

In a nutshell, Shirato Sanpei can be considered as a Marxist mangaka. His criticism of social oppression and his description of class struggle are powerful and interesting. But he is much more than this. His art is incredibly good and his storytelling is complex and captivating.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

My all-time favorite comics, part 2

Here is the second part of the list of my favorite comics.


Polly and her Pals, by Cliff Sterret (1922-1930, United States).
A family soap opera, with a couple of middle-aged people, her young and elegant daughter and her cat. All this in beautifully-drawn Art Deco surroundings, with poppy colors and a very subtle sense of humor.

Gasoline Alley, by Frank King (1921-1969, United State).
Another great family soap opera. Its main characteristic lies in the fact that the characters age at the same pace than their readers. At the beginning of the strip, Walt, a single man, very fond of cars, finds a baby orphan on his doorstep. Their relationship along several decades is depicted with subtlety and a lot of tenderness. And, last but not least, each color Sunday page is absolutely beautiful.


Popeye, by Elzie Crisler Segar (1930-1938, United States).
Popeye can be seen as the ancestor of superheroes. He is as powerful as many of them. But not as clever. As a matter of fact, he is quite simple-minded. But he is so honest and good-hearted that it seems impossible not to like him. Segar manages to mix successfully humor, action, fantasy and a lot of tenderness.

Tintin, by Hergé (from Lotus Bleu to Tintin et les Picaros, 1934-1976).
One milestone of French-speaking comics. Depending on one's preferences, one can be particularly fond of the great adventures of the first books (L'Oreille Cassée, L'Ile Noire, etc.), of the classical balance of the great two-volume sagas (Rackam le Rouge, On a marché sur la lune) or of the experimental innovations of the mature Hergé (from Coke en Stock to Les Picaros). Founder of the "ligne claire", Hergé was particularly influential on many comics artists, from his friend E.P. Jacobs to Chris Ware.

Prince Valiant, by Harold Foster (1937-1970, United States).
Classical and beautiful art. A great epic in a fantasy Middle Age that mixes the fall of the Roman Empire with the classical times of Chrétien de Troyes.

Terry and the Pirates, by Milton Caniff (best period from 1937 to 1942, United States)
The acme of adventure feuilleton: Fearless heroes, femmes fatales, exotic countries (mostly China and Sud-East Asia), terrific villains, pirates (of course). Action, romance, humour... And the art, on black and white or in colors is absolutely fantastic. Milton Caniff was nicknamed the "Rembrandt" of comics (for his great use of clair obscur). One the one hand, it's just another stupid comparison; on the other hand, it clearly outlines how great an artist Milton Caniff was.

To be continued...

Monday, 6 August 2012

French-speaking comics artists deserving a bigger audience...

Once again, The Comics Reporter realised an interesting mini-survey. A few people were asked to name five French-speaking cartoonists who could have a bigger audience with English-speaking readers that they have now.

It depends on what you expect when you talk of "bigger audience". If it is public, or even mainstream, success, Bastien Vivès is probably the first name to tell at this time of writing. His art is really lovely, he is very prolific and his stories fit very well in mainstream culture. Polina, one his latest book, on a young dancer, is really good.

Quite many other names come to my mind when I think of cartoonists who could get a bigger audience in English-speaking countries. And most of these names were given by some of the people interviewed by the Comics Reporter.

Among the older ones, André Franquin comes first. He is clearly one of the, if not THE, most talented humoristic French-speaking comics artist from the 1950s to the 1970s (probably on par with Albert Uderzo). He is also one the most influential Belgian comics artist with Hergé (Moebius being French). Gaston Lagaffe and his Idées Noires are his most famous works.

One generation younger, Baru is also a great artist. His art is very specific, both in colors and in black and white. His most characteristic feature is the importance he gives to the social background of his stories. They often take place in Western France, in places that suffered a lot from the decrease of industrial activity in the 1960s and 1970s.

Among the younger generation, the most talented artists were named in the post of the Comics Reporter: Joann Sfar, very prolific and often very funny, Christophe Blain (his Quai d'Orsay, about a French minister of Foreign Affairs, is very funny and very informative), David B (his Epileptic, available in English, is a true masterpiece of autobiographical comics), Nicolas de Crécy, Blutch, Frédérik Peeters, Marc-Antoine Matthieu, and a few others.

OK, all these authors are very talented ones. But two others, who were named only once or twice in the post of the Comics reporter, deserve, in my humble opinion, much more recognition than all these and are still surprisingly and, if I daresay, scandalously, ignored by English-speaking publishers: Edmond Baudoin and Fabrice Neaud.

Edmond Baudoin, active since the 1980s, is more or less, directly or indirectly, the godfather of all the French-speaking alternative comics that have flourished since the 1990s, from Lewis Trondheim to Marjane Satrapi. If I wanted to give an indication of the recognition he enjoys among these alternative comics artists, I would say that it could be compared to that of Robert Crumb in the States (OK, I know that this kind of comparison is stupid and pointless, but it's just to give a rough idea...). From a graphical point of view, he is one of the most gifted artist in the comics field ever. Influenced by many artists outside the comics field, a.o. Chinese traditional painters, he has a very original and really beautiful drawing style. His whole work aims at painting life; but life in itself, as an absolute. All his works aim at reaching this impossible dream. So he keeps on developing new techniques, new ways of doing comics to better depict life around him, to convey more emotion, to create more beauty. I do not know whether one of his book has ever been translated into English...

Fabrice Neaud is younger. His main works are the four volumes of his "Diary". In this masterpiece, he tells his own story, that of a young, jobless, gay artist living in a middle-size French city. In these four books, he reached new heights in autobiographical comics. He uses many possibilities offered by the comics medium in an innovative and original way to describe his life and feelings and to offer a very relevant critic of our present way of life. As of now, very few of his works have been translated into English. A 30-page short story is available on his publisher's website. Two other short stories (here) and the first ten pages of his Diary (here) are also available on the Internet. An English website is devoted to him.

I wish English-speaking readers could discover soon these two great artists.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

My all-time favorite comics, first part

I would like to share with you (not that I assume that you really care about it but...) the list of my favorite all-time comics. I have already done this on my French blog. This time, I left aside a few comics too French specific to get non French-speaking interested. Nevertheless some of the comics in this list, coming from France, but also from Japan, Belgium or Argentine, have probably never been translated into English. It is a real pity inasmuch as they really belong to the best comics that have ever been published in the world, in my humble opinion at least. Let's hope that an English-speaking publisher will have the good idea to translate them in a near future...

OK, let's begin the list. It is in chronological order and it is beginning in the 1830s, with somebody whom many scholars consider as the first comics artist ever...


Works by Rodolphe Töpffer (1830-1844, Switzerland).
First of his kind but already a true master. Since his very first comics, Töpffer discovers many potentialities of the new medium (sequential art, as it will be called many years later): changing the size of the panels to play with the rhythm of the story, iconic iteration, and so on. And his graphic novels are very funny.
He also wrote a very interesting essay on comics, "Essai de Physiognomonie".

That's all for the 19th century. There are probably many other great comics artists from that period (Caran d'Ache, Wilhem Busch, Christophe, Rudolph Dirks, for instance) but I do not know their works enough to able to express an opinion on them.


"Little Nemo on Slumberland", by Winsor McCay (1905-1914, United States).
Winsor McCay brings us to a land of dreams. In each new page, he invents new ways of drawing comics to enable Nemo explore Slumberland and its beautiful Modern Style landscapes.

"The Kin-der-Kids", by Lyonel Feininger (1906-1907, United States).
Lyonel Feininger devoted only 2-3 years to comics before converting himself to painting, a field in which he became truly famous. Nonetheless, in such a short time, he made a deep influence on comics drawing. The influence of his rough and angular art can still be felt today, in some of Frank Miller's drawings, for instance.


"Krazy Kat", by George Herriman (1913-1944, United States).
Nothing as poetic as this has been created in comics ever since. Landscapes are changing all the time, the pages are laid out in an extraordinary way; the language spoken by the main characters, made of English, Spanish and French, full of alliterations, is very poetic; and the same story (a complex love triangle between a he-mouse, a he/she-cat and a dog-cop) is told every Sunday but it is different every time. This strip was widely appreciated by Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso...

"Bringing up Father", by George McManus (1913-1954, United States).
Here is the origin of the "ligne claire", one of the strongest graphic influences of Hergé and Joost Swarte. Very elegant, this drawing has not lost its charms at all.

Monday, 30 July 2012

God and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls, by Jaime Hernandez (2012)

"God and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls" is a superhero graphic novel. It was first published in the first two issues of "Love and Rockets: New Stories". 30 new pages were added.

I must admit that, when I first read "God and Science" in the first two issues of "Love and Rockets: New Stories", I was not completely convinced by this story. But, after reading it in one volume, with 30 new pages, I must acknowledge that Jaime's superhero story is a very good one.

Once again there's in this Hernandez' comics much more than meets the eye. "God and Science" is a very strong, multi-layered graphic novel.

First layer: with this story of super-girls running, flying, falling and wrestling, Jaime Hernandez can draw as many women bodies in motion as he can dream of, like in "Whoa, Nellie" (that takes place in the women wrestling world).

Second layer: "God and Science" is evidently more than a pseudo-remake of "Whoa, Nellie!". It is a super-hero comics with all the strengths of it. Like Alan Moore in "Supreme", Jaime Hernandez uses many flashbacks to create a rich and complex past for all his heroines. In a few pages, we discover all the teams they have belonged to, all the super-villains they have fought, all their alliances or struggles. Even though these heroines will probably not live longer than these 100-odds pages, we have the impression of knowing them for a very long time... Naming this story "Return of the Ti-Girls" is part of this game. Jaime Hernandez manages to create, in a little more than 100 pages, a whole universe as rich as many others...

Third layer: We have here a storyline with all that is required in any good superhero comics: extraordinary superpowers, gigantic fights, cosmic danger, psychological interrogations, twist in the end, etc. Jaime Hernandez knows superhero comics and can create a good one.

Fourth layer: "God and Science" takes place in the Locas-verse. The main character of this story is Penny Century. As Jaime concluded Izzy's story in "Ghosts of Hoppers", he seems to bring Penny's misadventures to an end in "God and Science". She had been dreaming to have superpowers for ages; now she has some and it is not as great as she had imagined... "God and Science" brings a moving and rich conclusion to Penny's story. Maggie plays an important part in "Ghost of Hoppers" too. She has no superpower but, as a superhero comics specialist, she can give good advice to her super heroic friends. And we have Angel, one of Maggie's latest friends, who discovers that she has superpowers.

And that's not all. As a fifth layer, "God and Science" is a new convincing proof of Jaime's mastery in storytelling. He is particularly good at describing people's feelings with very subtle touches, a silent panel, a movement of the hands, a specific look. The last few pages of the book are a very good example of Jaime's exceptional art: the conversation between Angel, her younger sister and their mother is just breathtaking: after a few panels of secrets disclosed and hidden again, of things half told, half untold, nobody knows exactly who knows what. One thing only is clear: Jaime is one of the greatest comics artist ever...

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Comics, French side

For 4 years now, I have regularly updated a blog, in French, on various cultural facts and events, mostly related to comics. It is available here: Quite often, I wished I had more discussion with English-speaking people about some of my posts, either when I was talking about American artists (Chris Ware, los Bothers Hernandez and so on) or when I gave my opinion on how French comics were perceived in the United States.

That's why I decided to give an English version of my blog, with the translation of some my posts or some original posts. I hope that it will create fruitful discussions about comics, across the Atlantic Ocean...