It has been a number of years since I read the 1942 classic, “The Stranger,” by Albert Camus. Reading Jacques Ferrandez’s graphic novel adaptation, I was struck by all the details I had forgotten. It also helped me to appreciate the parts to this story that can be considered existential and the rest that falls more into philosophy of the absurd. The main character in “The Stranger” is a young and indifferent man, Meursault. He is in the tradition of such characters as Kafka’s meek Gregor Samsa or Melville’s nebbish Bartleby. For Meursault, there are no rules to follow and nothing really matters. That’s not to say one can’t make their way in the world and be decent about it. But there’s nothing in Meursault’s mode of living to motivate him to make any great effort. And then a calamitous chain of events deliver him his comeuppance. Ferrandez brings all this to life in a way that adds to the reading of the original novel.
Ferrandez favors a more painterly and economical approach to creating graphic novels. Throughout the book, he has paintings floating behind the panels. Elements of the watercolor artwork are mirrored back in the panels. The drawings are quick and simplified, kept light, while also providing substance. I see a lot of interesting play with character development. Marie Cardona, Meursault’s girlfriend is depicted as lovely and ethereal but also warm and concerned about Meursault. Then there’s Raymond Sintes, the unsavory fellow who leads Meursault astray. And, finally, there’s Meursault who Ferrandez is careful to depict with just the right mix of arrogance, vacancy, and idealism. Originally published in French by Gallimard in 2013, this new 2016 edition is published by Pegasus Books. The English translation by Sandra Smith is completely in sync and offers a smooth connection to the artwork.
After a good long while of playing with words and pictures, a cartoonist knows how to conjure up what matters most. It is remarkable to see how Jacques Ferrandez has made this landmark novel his own, confronting its ambiguity. There’s an added sense of effortless spontaneity running throughout which is, certainly, a result of a great deal of planning and foresight. I have to hand it to him for consistently finding ways to combine his desire for pure painting, and uninterrupted imagery, within the comics narrative framework of panels. You really do need panels and/or some way to keep the story coherent. Ferrandez makes the process look easy and natural. And, again I must stress, he provides a refreshing take on our lost soul, Meursault. It is a pleasure to behold.
“The Stranger” is a 144-page full color hardcover, published by Pegasus Books.