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.