Mitchum. by Blutch. English translation by Matt Madden. Published by New York Review Comics, New York, 2020, 232 pages. $24.95.
I adhere to the strict view that the truest, most robust, and most legitimate forms of comics are created by the cartoonist auteur. You can’t just shrug and say, “Comics are comics!” Nope, that is way too broad and just plain nonsense. If we’re talking about comics as a true art form, then there is only one answer. And, keep in mind, comics are not just art but words too. So, the auteur is a very special creator, the artist-writer. I’ll even go one better and declare that the best living cartoonist auteur is Blutch. Yes, it’s that simple when you take into account such a versatile style and broad range of subject matter. Now, consider one of his best graphic novels, Mitchum, which has recently been re-issued by New York Review Comics with a new English translation by Matt Madden. I applaud New York Review Comics, part of the vision of New York Review Books, for bringing Blutch another step closer to a wider audience. Imagine a dazzling light, a smooth caress, a melodious song, a deliciously bitter coffee, or a wondrously smokey scent. All of this is Blutch!
A cartoonist as artist and an artist as cartoonist or magician.
Blutch is the sort of artist that I relate to the best. He is an artist as well as a magician–or even a wizard. Perhaps you must be working at the same craft, aspiring to that same level, to truly appreciate what I’m saying but I think, in fact, I know that I can explain it. It’s sort of one of those cases of it takes one to know one. I can engage in similar loose drawing and disjointed narrative and know what I know and, in that way, I share my insight. Christian Hincker, otherwise known as Blutch, has enjoyed an ongoing career as a cartoonist since graduating with a degree in illustration from the Decorative Arts College in his hometown of Strasbourg, France. It’s been a bit of a charmed life. At 53, Blutch could be looked upon as the grand old lion of comics. However, as some seasoned cartoonists, like Daniel Clowes, point out, serious cartoonists are only coming into their own after age 40. Whatever the case, Blutch seems to be in that heroic tradition of the wild bohemian artist, following some deep sensual instinct. Often, you see his characters either naked and about to erupt or well into some sexual act. On the cover of Mitchum, we kick off with a provocative image: a dog licks the slick and smooth bare foot of a beautiful young woman while a naked man lounges with a paper bag over his head. It’s totally a loaded image however you care to look at it. Pure Blutch.
Beautiful, raw and unbridled Blutch!
The sexiest part of the human body is the brain, of course. The brain controls our emotions, whatever they might be. Any good artist appreciates that and Blutch understands this better than most. So, it’s not just sex that he’s after but all sorts of goodies, naughty, sensual, primal and nearly unspeakable. If that sounds good to you, then you’re really gonna love Blutch. Dreams. Rants. Jazz. Not necessarily in that order. And a good healthy does of Robert Mitchum just for the hell of it! Out of a dream! But it’s not a rattled mess. Just think of it as that sketchbook come to life that I mentioned in a previous review. This is like the best jazz, highly structured while highly improvised, or at least appearing that way. The trick, if there is a trick, is that Blutch loves to draw and he does a hell of a lot of it. Back at the start of this new century of ours, when the indie comics boom was in full gear, it was Blutch who so many young cartoonists were emulating, even if they didn’t know it because they were so enthralled with emulating Craig Thompson, who was Blutch’s biggest fan. Thompson tried to tap deep into Blutch’s relentless passion but he was only going to be able to take what he needed. Fair is fair among artists. Thompson has a tidy version of Blutch’s style so, in that sense, he spun off his own style. As for Blutch, he keeps being Blutch because that’s the best way to be and he’s in it for the long haul, even if he may say he’s ready to hang it all up. In the end, Blutch maintains his position as an artist: unorthodox, unruly and mischievous.
A comic entitled, MITCHUM, only obliquely having to do with Robert Mitchum.
Anyhow, you can’t really fully copy the way someone of any caliber creates art just as you can’t fully copy the way someone else chooses to spend their day. It goes that deep! No one reviews comics the way I do, nor should they try. You might hurt yourself. Nor does anyone draw exactly like I do, and that has to do with my drawing long enough to develop a style. Not all artists are patient enough to develop their own style or anything coming close to it. By that, I mean many artists are more than content to follow a particular trend, school of thought, house style. That brings me back to all the disciples of Blutch. I won’t hesitate to say that there’s a ton to learn from Blutch and, if one is patient, one can avoid looking too closely at the sun and power through to an individual vision. In other words, I advise that any aspiring cartoonist would do well to study the hell out of Blutch but keep some energy for yourself and be willing to look away at some point and craft your own personal way of drawing.
I suppose if there are some more secrets to success to dispense with, I’d throw in the need to pace yourself. Rome was not built in a day, right? Well, this graphic novel sure wasn’t. It’s actually a collection of single issues of Mitchum comics. A very arthouse thing this all is since Robert Mitchum doesn’t even appear in the first couple of issues. And, when he does appear, well, many people won’t even know unless you’re of a certain age or a big fan of film. With that said, Blutch is a huge fan of many things, including cinema, pop culture and high culture. Alright then. Now, how about a few words on the English translation by notable cartoonist Matt Madden. Mr. Madden is notable for many reasons, as a man of good taste and the author of one of my favorite books related to comics theory, 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style. Madden also happens to know French very well and lived in France for a good long while with his wife, fellow cartoonist Jessica Abel. By far, Madden has just the right sophisticated palate to capture the essence of Blutch’s words. Both Jessica Abel and Matt Madden have made some amazing contributions to the comics medium and, at the end of the day, that’s priceless. When you consider the work of Blutch, you can understand how art can be, when it’s all said and done, the most lasting gift.
What Mickey Mouse is to Americans, Asterix is to the French. The news of Papercutz Publishing bringing out new English translations of every volume of Asterix has been stirring excitement since late last year. The wait is just about over. On May 19, 2020, Papercutz launchs the new Asterix editions with two omnibus volumes of three stories each, starting at the beginning of the series, plus a stand-alone edition of the newest book, #38: THE CHIEFTAIN’S DAUGHTER, which was released internationally in October 2019 and promptly sold 5 million copies worldwide. And, by the way, Asterix is not only in good company with Mickey Mouse. Also making the case for Asterix in America is the massive success of Jeff Smith’s Bone series, another quirky comics series that is an all-ages favorite.
Papercutz Brings Asterix to America
Since Asterix first appeared as a French comic in 1959, the ancient Gaul warrior has been featured in 38 books which have sold close to 380 million copies worldwide. It’s the best-selling comic of all time. The series, written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo, has been translated into 111 languages and dialects, adapted into ten animated and four (soon-to-be five) live-action films, and even inspired a full theme park outside of Paris. While the international phenomenon has yet to take hold on this side of the Atlantic, the future looks bright for Asterix at Papercutz.
Asterix Comes to America
Fun facts and the whole story about Asterix follows:
This is one of the most inspired scenarios for a comic that I’ve seen in a while. What if all the great mystery writers of the 193os formed a club–and had amazing adventures? That is exactly what is happening in this totally cool new graphic novel series, The Detection Club, script and art by Jean Harambat, published by Europe Comics. We’re talking about the golden age for mystery writers including G. K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, and Dorothy L. Sayers. This is from the same brilliant talent who created the spy thriller series graphic novels, Operation Copperhead. If you like crisp and witty humor, then this is for you. And, yes, this book is in English. That’s an essential component of Europe Comics, your home for comics from Europe, translated into English.
The Detection Club page excerpt
First off, you need to know that there really was a Detection Club and it must have been something! Just imagine all of these world-class writers meeting on a regular basis, helping each other out with their craft, and even writing books together under the name of the club itself! I don’t think I was aware of this and, if I was, I’d forgotten. So many years and beers ago, you know. But now I’m fully aware of this fact thanks to this wonderful graphic novel series. So, that is the basis in reality for this series but Harambat takes it much further and places a select bunch of our writer heroes in quite a madcap adventure involving a crime-solving robot who may or may not have just committed murder! So, lots of fun for all ages, even for much older kids at heart such as myself.
Panel excerpt: Our main characters all in row.
I really like to showcase panel art. There are so many reasons to do this. The main reason is to simply get a closer look! This makes sense, just as you would focus on a particular passage in any novel. It gives us a moment to savor the process. What is key about Harambat is that he loves to draw. This is quite evident in the above example. Too many young aspiring cartoonists believe that any scrawl that they produce is priceless. That wrongheaded thinking is much too ingrained in the indie comics community. Yes, there is a place for spontaneity and a loose and sketchy style can be quite legitimate. But look at the dazzling results you get from rigorous care in the pursuit of refined essentials. Everything reads as very crisp and clear! You want that kind of clarity!
The Detection Club page excerpt
Harambat is an auteur cartoonist who truly loves to write and draw economically. It is a very functional approach that makes it easier to tackle such an ambitious project that involves characters with formidable back-stories. We’re talking about some of the greatest popular writers of all time–either intimately known by readers or at least recognized to some degree. There are expectations already in place. Many readers coming to this graphic novel already have some notion as to who Agatha Christie was and expect someone unusual and clever–and will expect the same from her contemporaries. Any reader attracted to this book is already curious about the world of mystery and crime fiction and related matters. Harambat is there to deliver on all counts: he fills in the blanks, connects the dots, and thoroughly entertains. All the characters are drawn in a direct and clear way, easy to keep track of, easy to relate with. Then you bring in the villain, an eccentric billionaire living on some secluded tropical island with a huge robot at the center of a murder mystery. Bingo! What a premise to kick off this series!
The Detection Club: Part 1 is an 86-page book, available in digital format on various platforms. For more details, visit Europe Comics, your home for all European comics, all digital, all in English.
ANGOULÊME FESTIVAL – The 47th annual Angoulême International Comics Festival took place January 30 thru February 2, 2020. Arguably, it is the most artful and significant of all comics festivals. It is, without a doubt, on many a serious cartoonist’s bucket list simply to attend. The Grand Prize of the Angoulême International Comic Book Festival (Fibd), which rewards an author each year for all of his work, was awarded to Frenchman Emmanuel Guibert. Other awards presented this year demonstrate the scope and breadth of comics of the highest quality. The Grand Prize of the City of Angoulême, awarded on the eve of the comics festival, is one of the highest distinctions for a comic book author. This prize is awarded following a vote by the community of professional comics authors published in French, regardless of their nationality. Emmanuel Guibert, screenwriter of Ariol and author of Space sardine, succeeds Japanese winner Rumiko Takahashi last year. The Angoulême International Comics Festival is the second largest comics festival in Europe after the Lucca Comics & Games in Italy, and the third biggest in the world after Lucca Comics & Games and the Comiket of Japan. It has occurred every year since 1974 in Angoulême, France, in January.
Emmanuel Guibert wins Grand Prix 2020
The following is a beautiful description from the Angoulême festival site of the career of Emmanuel Guibert, the winner of the Grand Prix for 2020:
After the American Richard Corben in 2018 and the mangaka Rumiko Takahashi last year, the Frenchman Emmanuel Guibert is elected Grand Prix of the 47th International Comic Book Festival of Angoulême, after a vote which brought together 1852 authors and comic book authors.With Emmanuel Guibert, it is a masterful author with an exemplary career who is today rewarded.Born in 1964 in Paris, Emmanuel Guibert began his career in comics with Brune , a work on the rise of Nazism in a hyper-realistic style which he quickly abandoned.The album, which it took seven years to produce, appeared in 1992. Frequenting the authors of the very young publishing house L’Association, he began to publish stories in the review Lapin , and joined the atelier des Vosges alongside notably Emile Bravo, Christophe Blain and Joann Sfar.On a script by the latter, he drew The teacher’s daughter , Alph’art coup de coeur and Prix René Goscinny at the Angoulême Festival in 1998. Emmanuel Guibert implemented a sepia drawing, sensitive and flexible, in a graphic style that he continues to shape in The Scarlet Captain with David B. in script (2000).Always with Joann Sfar, he began in 2000 the children’s series Sardine from space, of which he first wrote the screenplay before also ensuring the drawing.He gives free rein to his imagination and develops his formidable talent as a storyteller.From 2001 he drew the series Black Olives (3 volumes) on a little Jewish boy in Judea 2000 years ago, again with Joann Sfar in the script.
At the turn of the 2000s, Emmanuel Guibert began publishing an ambitious and long-term project, a series of albums inspired by the memories of his American friend Alan Ingram Cope, La Guerre d’Alan (three volumes from 2000 to 2008 ), Alan’s childhood (2012), Martha and Alan (2016).With his elegant and restrained line, of great technique, Emmanuel Guibert excels at staging Alan’s life, exposing the intimate with subtle modesty.This magnificent work of memory smuggler continues in The Photographer (three volumes from 2003 to 2006), inspired by memories and photos brought back from trips to Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders by photojournalist Didier Lefèvre.Here, photos and drawings complement and merge, to better fix time and memories.The Photographer will be rewarded around the world with the Prix Essentiel d’Angoulême in 2007, the Eisner Award for the best American edition of an international work and the Micheluzzi Prize for the best foreign series in 2010.
In Alan as in The Photographer , Emmanuel Guibert, by his virtuoso gesture and his technique, sublimates the intimate and the everyday, magnifies the innocent and the passing of time, and above all, unconditionally places the human at the heart of his stories.An interest in the other that can be found both in Alain’s news , a book on Roma communities in Europe produced with Alain Keler, and in the irresistible series for young people Ariol which he created in 2000 with Marc Boutavant at the drawing.There, under the cover of telling the adventures of a small anthropomorphic donkey, he explores modern life and everyday life as a child, appealing to his own memories.Emmanuel Guibert received the René Goscinny Prize in 2017 for all of his work.
The Grand Prix crowns a complete author, innovative designer and unparalleled narrator, whose work for adults and children is imbued with the greatest humanity.
Angouleme Palmares 2020
There is an essential list of eleven awards at Angouleme that provide a window into the wide and wondrous world of alternative comics. After all these years, many a talking head is still chattering away about the boom in arthouse comics and, sure, that is all well in good insomuch as it helps spread the word. After all these years, the playing field on the pop culture landscape is pretty far flung and spread out. We now have wave after wave of specialized “comics journalists” out there taking the pulse of the comics scene, many of who have never attempted to write or draw a comic of their own, have limited knowledge, and who are more ready than anything to espouse a hasty theory or proclamation about the comics medium. Well, that brings us back to the reality of a platform such as Angouleme where work has gone through a fairly rigorous vetting process. Hey, the process is subjective on many levels but quality work usually manages to rise to the top that is worth discussing and has a chance of holding up to the test of time. That is why a list of Angouleme award winners rates taking notice. Here is my own enhanced presentation that I cobbled together by making liberal use of the live Twitter feed by 20 Minutes:
Fauve d’Or for the best album: “Révolution” tome 1, by Florent Grouazel and Younn Locard
(Prize which rewards the best album of the year, regardless of genre, style or geographic origin)
(Live Tweet) Ceremony of the Fauves – The Fauve d’or for the best album is awarded to Florent Grouazel and Younn Locard for “Revolution – Tome 1 Liberté” by Actes Sud / L’An 2 # FIBD2020 # BD2020 #BD #Angouleme # FIBD @ActesSud pic.twitter.com/NiJSS37IVX
– Festival d’Angoulême (@bdangouleme) February 1, 2020 The first part of this choral story focuses on the year 1789 and blows the wind of the Revolution in the street.This titanic project, expertly documented, was carried out by four hands by two young authors who retrace the revolutionary period in a resplendent graphic bubbling, inspired by the imagery of the time.
20 Minutes’ opinion: Telling the French Revolution of 1789 in just over 1000 pages is a very ambitious project, especially on the part of such young authors (the Breton Florent Grouazel is 32 years old and the Norman Younn Locard is 35 ).The value does not wait for the number of years, the first volume of “Revolution” is a total success, with dynamic and captivating narration (and choir, since we witness events through the eyes of three characters) and striking graphics of realism.Hyper-documented, demanding, their work has made, since its release, a critical and public unanimity.At 20 Minutes, we appreciated it so much that we rarely consider Fauve d’Or for the best album to have been so indisputable.
Révolution tome 1, by F. Grouazel & Y. Locard – Actes Sud / L’An 2 editions – 26 euros
Fauve Special Jury Prize: “Clyde Fans”, by Seth
(Prize given to a work which particularly marked the jury by its narration, its aesthetics and / or the themes addressed)
(Live Tweet) Ceremony of the Fauves – The special Fauve of the jury is awarded to “Clyde Fans” of Seth, published by @DelcourtBD # FIBD2020 # BD2020 #BD #Angouleme #FIBD pic.twitter.com/6FajrXrFUV
– Festival d’Angoulême (@bdangouleme) February 1, 2020Fruit of a work started twenty years ago, “Clyde Fans” tells the story of two brothers who inherited their father’s business after he abandoned them.The Canadian Seth, whose elegant graphics are imbued with a touch of nostalgia, is second to none to tell intimate stories that touch on the universal of the human condition.
Clyde Fans, de Seth – Delcourt editions – 49.90 euros
Fawn Revelation: “Skylight”, by Joe Kessler
(Prize awarded to the album of an author or an author at the start of their career who has professionally published a maximum of three books)
(Live Tweet) Ceremony of the Fauves – The Fauve Révélation is awarded to “Lucarne” by Joe Kessler, at @lassociation
– Festival d’Angoulême (@bdangouleme) February 1, 2020These five short stories impregnated with strong colors translate the most intimate sensations of the characters.A singular graphic and narrative experience, signed by the artistic director of the English publisher Breakdown Press, to express fear, pleasure or smells, supported by a hypnotic narration and an original vision of the world.
Fawn from the series: “In the Abyss of Time”, by Gou Tanabe
(Prize which honors a work in four or more volumes, regardless of the number of volumes in total)
(Live Tweet) Ceremony of the Fauves – The Fauve of the series is awarded to “Dans l’Abîme du temps” by Gou Tanabe and HP Lovecraft at @ki_oon_Editions # FIBD2020 # BD2020 #BD #Angouleme #FIBD #Fauve pic.twitter.com / dXJgZDsjF7
– Festival d’Angoulême (@bdangouleme) February 1, 2020After The Hallucinated Mountains, Gou Tanabe continues his adaptation of the novels of the master of horror, HP Lovecraft.Leaving Antarctica for the Australian desert, with a black line of oppressive realism, the mangaka draws the inexpressible and gives body to this nightmarish SF masterpiece that combines a journey through time and a terrifying transfer of personality.
In the Abyss of Time, by Gou Tanabe (after HP Lovecraft) – Ki-Oon editions – 17 euros
Act of God
Fawn of Audacity: “Act of God”, by Giacomo Nanni
(Prize which rewards experimentation and formal innovation through an album with an inventive and innovative graphic style, using all the possibilities of comics to better push its boundaries)
(Live Tweet) Ceremony of the Beasts – The Beast of Boldness is awarded to Giacomo Nanni for “Act of God” by Here Same editions
– Festival d’Angoulême (@bdangouleme) February 1, 2020On August 24, 2016, in Italy, an earthquake killed 298 people and left nearly 400 injured.Giacomo Nanni traps the moment in a choral tale that makes the mountains speak, lingers on a stray deer in front of a supermarket and tracks the unicorn in the viewfinder of two hunters.His pantheistic ode confronts man with nature and creation with chaos, in a pointillist and dazzling graphic magma.
Act of God, by G. Nanni – editions Ici même – 19.50 euros
The Green Hand and Other Stories
Fauve Patrimoine: “The green hand and other stories”, by Nicole Claveloux and Édith Zha
(Prize rewarding a work which is part of the world history of the 9th art and whose edition, re-edition or the integral offers a particularly neat editorial work)
Live Tweet) Ceremony of the Fauves – The Fauve du Patrimoine is awarded to “La Main Verte et autres récits” by Nicole Claveloux and Edith Zha at @ed_cornelius # FIBD2020 # BD2020 #BD #Angouleme #FIBD pic.twitter.com/hVFmYwIy6d
– Festival d’Angoulême (@bdangouleme) February 1, 2020First volume of an anthology dedicated to Nicole Claveloux, painter, youth illustrator and cartoonist, passed by the magazines Métal Hurlant and Ah!Nana .Collection of poetic stories enhanced with flamboyant colors, “The Green Hand” describes an absurd and funny world in which reality plays hide and seek with reason.
Note that Nicole Claveloux received a Fauve d’honneur during the official Fauves award ceremony, Saturday, February 1, 2020.
Standing ovation for Nicole Claveloux who receives a Fauve d’honneur at @bdangouleme #Fauves # FIBD2020 # BD2020 pic.twitter.com/E4HhBMGfJy
– see read (@ see read) February 1, 2020The Green Hand and other stories, byN. Claveloux & E. Zha–Corneliuseditions –23.50euros
La Saison des Roses
Fauve Audience Award France TV: “Saison des roses”, by Chloé Wary
(Prize awarded by a jury of nine spectators from France Télévision)
(Live Tweet) Ceremony of the Fauves – The Fauve Audience Award France Télévisions is awarded to Chloé Wary for “La Saison des roses” at @editionsFLBLB @Francetele # FIBD2020 # BD2020 #BD #Angouleme #FIBD pic.twitter.com/PYdKw1x8Px
– Festival d’Angoulême (@bdangouleme) February 1, 2020Barbara passes the bac.She lives with her mother in the ordinary suburb of Rosigny-sous-Bois and lives only for her football club.But this year, the leaders decided to favor the men’s team, preventing the players from registering for the championship.With her markers, Chloé Wary puts her bright colors at the service of the story, to salute the team’s commitment to the collective field of football and the feminist struggle.
Saison des roses, byChloé Wary–Flblbeditions– 23euros
Fauve Polar SNCF: “No Direction”, by Emmanuel Moynot
(Prize awarded by a jury of personalities)
(Live Tweet) The Fauve Polar #SNCF is awarded to “No Direction” by Emmanuel Moynot at Sarbacane editions @ SNCF # FIBD2020 # BD2020 #BD #Angouleme #FIBD @ESarbacane pic.twitter.com/QrpG938GRx
– Festival d’Angoulême (@bdangouleme) February 1, 2020In this paper road movie in the form of a choral narrative, Moynot follows two serial killers in their mad race across America, like a filmmaker filming on the shoulder.Bloody and hopeless epic, doomed to failure and violence, “No Direction” is a human comedy in twenty chapters that strike the reader in the stomach like so many punches.
No Direction, byEmmanuel Moynot–Sarbacaneeditions– 24euros
Fawnof alternative comics: “Komikaze“(collective – Croatia)
(Prize rewards the best non-professional publication, chosen from around thirty non-professional productions and coming from any geographic origin)
(Live Tweet) The price for alternative comics is given to Komikaze # 18 # FIBD2020 # BD2020 #BD #Angouleme #FIBD pic.twitter.com/ncmmty1HHw
No one does the dance with death, and life, on the page as well as French cartoonist Blutch. He has influenced a generation of cartoonists, including such big names as Paul Pope and Craig Thompson. You can see it in how they create in ink, how they attack the page. But neither Pope nor Thompson can really match the master. The way Blutch brings his pages to life is more mysterious, even dangerous, truly like a tightrope walker without a net. It’s not only ink, for Blutch. It’s one’s own life’s blood. Blutch is well known in France in sort of similar fashion to, say, Robert Crumb is known in the United States. By that, I mean that Blutch has a reputation for artful and provocative work. When the reissue of Peplum first came out a while ago, I was deep in the process of a lot of things, including a big move and so I do a revisit of this book now, Blutch’s first book translated into English. It began as a serialized comic in the magazine, A Suivre, and established Blutch as a serious artist back in 1996, at the age of 28. And it is the book that New York Review Books chose as part of their entry into publishing reprints of classic work in graphic novels.
Give me a reason to create art!
This is really the sort of work in comics that appeals to me the most: work created by someone who is masterfully pushing the limits of the art form. Peplum is ambitious in scope and highly inventive and original in execution. Having become bored with conventional comics tropes, Blutch needed to pursue comics more as would a painter, filmmaker or novelist. He chose the ancient Roman fable, The Satyricon, as his jumping off point. As this is a satire of Nero’s court, Blutch essentially wished to associate himself with satire on a grand scale. He marries that refined ambition with a low brow reference. Peplum refers to the peplum film genre, the sword-and-sandal Italian B-movie epics of the ’50s and ’60s. With all that in place, Blutch can work as a painter, having created the wash upon which he can structure his canvas.
PEPLUM by Blutch
A good deal of this comic is wordless, so much the better to study Blutch’s work. Often, what you find is a hungry artist feasting upon creating work. He’s set himself up a glorious excuse to paint, as many a painter will tell you. Blutch proves with this early work that he is fully capable of evoking the mystery and energy found in the best work of comics or any other art form. Our story is set shortly after the assassination of Julius Caesar and the focus ends up on the sole survivor of an expedition en route back to Rome. He is a slave who takes on the identity of a nobleman, Publius Cimber. During their ill-fated journey, Cimber’s group had discovered a beautiful regal-like woman encased in a block of ice. What this supernatural entity might mean or be is beyond anyone’s wildest guess. Cimber only knows he must return to Rome with her–and he might be in love with her. Ah, this is a story only Blutch could tell!
You always need a really good MacGuffin.
Is the lady in ice that Cimber covets nothing more than a MacGuffin, an elaborate plot device? Sure, the reader senses that this is probably the case early on but no matter. It’s the journey that counts for everything. Poor Cimber is well over his head. He isn’t even really Cimber! He has pledged his heart over to the enigmatic frozen maiden but, aside from that, he’s a bit of a loose cannon and a tortured Hamlet. Cimber is a bit of all of us, climbing and grasping for something, not always sure of what he wants. Cimber makes for a perfectly fine present day hero even if his life and struggles take place in ancient Rome. What we find in Peplum are the first significant signs of what was ahead for Blutch as an artist. That same wry energy is found in other work such as the celebrated Mitchum, also from around 1996, and So Long, Silver Screen, from 2011. In Mitchum, among the players is none other than Hollywood legend Robert Mitchum who is there to stand on a young woman’s hair during a pivotal scene. Yet another perfectly surreal Blutch moment! And speaking of Mitchum, New York Review Books will be releasing an English translation of this most dazzling book, set to be released April 7, 2020. It will have an English translation by none other than cartoonist and comics scholar Matt Madden. Below, I present to you the cover to the original French version, published by Cornélius.
“Haytham: A Childhood in Syria” by Kyungeun Park & Nicolas Hénin
“Haytham: A Childhood in Syria” depicts a typical Syrian family in clear and accessible terms–and that alone is a powerful vehicle to understanding Syria today. Like many an American family, each individual helps the other to progress. In the al-Aswad family, much is expected from young Haytham. He demonstrates both academic and athletic skill. And he adores his activist father. It is in following this family that the reader is given a unique perspective into how average Syrians live under a dictatorship–and how they resist.
Growing up with the Assad regime.
The story begins with Haytham reveling in the beauty of lemon trees in his family’s garden. By age four, he observes the first signs of threat from the outside world. The dictator Hafez al-Assad has died. Haytham’s father is jubilant. But the celebration is short-lived. Assad’s son, Bashir, takes over control. And so the control of the Ba’ath Party continues and intensifies. The Ba’ath Party is Soviet-inspired, complete with its own secret police, the Mukhabarat.
A graphic novel about Syria that educates and enlightens.
The script is based upon the true story of Haytham al-Aswad. It is written by Nicolas Hénin, a French journalist who was held hostage by Isis for 10 months. Hénin has spoken out against air strikes in Syria, saying they represent “a trap” for Britain and other members of the international community. The reader will appreciate the sense of urgency to this story, an authentic work of reportage uniquely brought to life in a graphic novel format. The story of Mr. Hénin, and his thoughtful views, are very compelling:
Illustrator Kyungeun Park (Yallah Bye) does a heroic job of bringing Hénin’s script to life. Park has a very warm approach to family and character details. The reader is made to feel at home and compelled to invest in the story. Park does great justice to a graphic novel equipped to do much good: to both educate and enlighten.
Kyung-eun Park, Haytham al-Aswad, and Nicolas Hénin
Crossing the border into Jordan.
“Haytham: A Childhood in Syria” is an 80-page graphic novel, black & white with gray tones. This book was originally published in France by Dargaud. You can find it at izneo, the place to go to read European comics in French and in English. Izneo BD Comics Manga is the best app for French-Belgian comics, with thousands of digital comic books. Give the izneo comics reader a test drive right here.
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” will open in U.S. theaters on July 21st. It all began as a French comic book series. First published in Pilote magazine in 1967, the final installment was published in 2010. The science fiction comics series was entitled “Valérian and Laureline,” or just “Valérian,” created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières. The first volume in a complete collected works was recently published by Cinebook. “Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1” is now available from Cinebook. You can also purchase it at Amazon right here.
“Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1”
This deluxe edition includes various supplementary material related to the movie. It starts out with an exclusive interview with the film’s director, Luc Besson (The Fifth Element). He shares his childhood adoration for the Valerian comics. He dutifully awaited each new installment in Pilote magazine, just like all the other kids he knew. The Valerian comics, with their mix of classic science fiction and whimsical fantasy, helped to influence Star Wars. And perhaps, only now, has movie technology caught up to do justice to a Valerian movie.
Drawing by Jean-Claude Mézières of Star Wars meets Valerian
All you really need to know to enjoy the movie is that it’s like Star Wars but with a distinctively French flare. The main characters are a couple of special operatives, Valérian and Laureline, on a mission to save the world, or should I say, the universe! It is in reading the actual comics that a reader quickly picks up on that refreshing sense of irreverence that is Valerian. Keep in mind that director Luc Besson worked with Valerian artist Jean-Claude Mézières on “The Fifth Element.” Indeed, this is a very special case of a major motion picture and its comics source material working seamlessly together.
Now, consider the significance of the Valerian comics because, make no big mistake, Valerian set the stage for much that was to come. Valerian comics, in their day, were groundbreaking. There was nothing quite like it in its scope and influence. These comics hit France in the Sixties during a major time of transition: a post World War II culture seeking out fresh new entertainment. To get away from the gray and the drab, the two French creators of Valerian went west to the U.S. for a time to get recharged. In fact, their first work together originated in Salt Lake City, Utah!
Panel excerpt from Valerian
In the U.S., Mézières, the artist, and Christin, the writer, were enthralled with wide open spaces, colorful B-movies, and great promise for change, as demonstrated with the Civil Rights movement. They honed their skills. Mézières focused on such artistic talent as Giraud, Jijé, Franquin, and Mad magazine. Christin focused on science fiction writers like Asimov, Van Vogt, Vance, and Wyndham. And, together, they created Valerian.
This first volume of the collection contains books 1 and 2 of the series: The City of Shifting Waters – in its original two parts, 9 pages longer format – and The Empire of a Thousand Planets. It also includes book 0, Bad Dreams, translated into English for the first time: the very first adventures of our two heroes, published after City and retroactively numbered.
And to really get a sense of what’s in store with the Valerian movie, check out this particularly informative trailer below that goes into the vital connection to the original comics. Yes, Valerian is a big deal. Consider it as big as Star Wars:
“Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1” is a 160-page full color hardcover suitable for all ages. Buy it on Amazon right here.
Baru (Hervé Barulea) is a legendary cartoonist known for such work as 1995’s euro-manga, “L’Autoroute du Soleil,” which won the prestigious Alph’ Art award for the best original French language comic. More recently, he won wide acclaim in 2010 for his 300-page graphic novel, “Villerupt 1966,” published by Les Rêveurs. Baru favors recollections of his adventures as a youth in the ’60s. “The Swimming pool of Micheville,” published by Les Rêveurs in 2015, is an excellent collection of comics that chronicles Baru’s coming of age. It is one of a vast array of comics that you can find at the new home for online comics around the world, izneo.com.
The theme for this collection of Baru comics is a lost generation of kids who, despite a bleak environment and dim prospects for the future, still pursue dreams and hopes. Take “Goofy John,” for instance. He will do anything to impress the girls even build his body to Charles Atlas proportions. But, even with his new bod, the girls are not in the least interested. As the guys are quick to point out, John still has buck teeth and rabbit ears. And, besides, as the little stinkers take pleasure in pointing out, all the girls have moved on to lean mod boys.
One such teddy boy, is Verdini, who manages to frustrate the guys on all counts. Verdini has been sized up as not too bright, along with other shortcomings. And, despite it all, the girls all go for him! You can see that Baru takes great delight in doling out all of his social commentary to the point that you are immersed in it. Baru’s light artwork lifts off the page. His style is wry and light, pleasing to the eye.
Circa 1963: A lost generation
Baru excels in bringing out the pathos in a scene. He roots for the underdog. His beloved characters are all supposedly “losers” in the great game of life. Baru sees the poetry and gentle beauty in his lost generation. These are the kids who are held back, dismissed, forced out of any higher education. The steelworks and the typist pool await these poor youth. But, for at least a few summers, they can all enjoy the local swimming pool in their prime: lost in their libidos and flirting in their swimsuits. So what if everything is covered in a fine mist of rust red from smoke coming from the nearby bessemer converter?
THE SWIMMING POOL OF MICHEVILLE is a wonderful collection featuring stories about cars, rugby, and romance. It runs 81 pages in full color. And you can find it at izneo.com right here.
Here is some more information on izeno:
THE FIRST OFFICIAL AND LEGAL ONLINE COMIC BOOK READING SERVICE
The biggest comic book publishers have partnered to launch izneo, the first digital comic book reading service.
With izneo, publishers like Bamboo, Casterman, Circonflexe, Dargaud, Dupuis, Fei, Fluide Glacial, Grand Angle, Jungle, Kana, Le Lombard, and Lucky Comics will offer the largest catalog of e-comics.
Open to all comic book genres, the izneo catalog expands every month with even more new albums.
The izneo service is simple: rent an album from €1.99, or buy from €4.99 (online reading)! What’s more, for €9.99 a month, subscription allows comic book lovers to read as many albums as they like from all over the world.The comic book is a form of graphic and literary art, which is particularly suited to on-screen reading, especially on a tablet. With the izneo app, you can read your comic books while on the move.You can also access izneo via e-bookstores such as iBookstore, Immatériel, Amazon.fr, Fnac.com or even Starzik.com… izneo also has a special subscription plan for libraries.
Yet another opportunity for new readers to discover the joy of comic albums…
Much is brewing for novelist Jerome Charyn and I imagine that’s always been the case. Currently, he has a new novel out, “Jerzy,” which tackles the controversial life of writer Jerzy Kosinski. The development of “Hard Apple,” an animated series based on Charyn’s Isaac Sidel crime novels, is on a fast-track. “Winter Warning,” perhaps the last installment of the Sidel novels comes out this October. And “Family Man,” a deluxe re-issue of Charyn’s collaboration with cartoonist Joe Staton will be available later this year, with a Kickstarter campaign in support of the IT’S ALIVE Press print run closing on May 21st.
For a writer steeped in the works of great literature, it is comic books and movies that influence his work as much as anything else. In 1986, “The Magician’s Wife,” a graphic novel written by Jerome Charyn and illustrated by François Boucq, published by Casterman, won for Best Album at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. That is tantamount to winning an Academy Award for the comics industry. Mr. Charyn’s contribution, and subsequent collaborations, have significantly added to the developing art form that is the comics medium, specifically graphic novels.
We begin our conversation talking about character. In this case, the celebrated and controversial writer Jerzy Kosinski. At the end is a link to the podcast:
Jerzy Kosinski with David Letterman, 1984.
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Let’s begin with your recent novel, “Jerzy.” My thinking is that the life of Jerzy Kosinski fits in well with your work as you’re drawn to unusual characters seeking salvation.
JEROME CHARYN: When you look back at it historically, it almost seems like he didn’t exist. He seems like a made-up person. He led so many fictional lives. To me, it was very sad because the first two books he wrote, “The Painted Bird,” and his second novel, “Steps,” which is just as unusual, were works of genius. But, when he put on the mask of Jerzy Kosinski, in the other books, they’re no longer anywhere as interesting. They don’t have the same sad, hard touch. They’re made-up, invented. They’re not authentic.
“Jerzy: A Nove” by Jerome Charyn
“Steps” talks about his life after the war and how he lived. We have such a narrow glimpse into what it must have been like to live in a communist country after the war. And this is, you know, almost like Kafka. I mean, the world he describes in “Steps” is extraordinary. I found him to be a strange man. Very hard to deal with. But the early work was incredible.
You share a certain sensibility with Kosinski: a connection to Russia.
Yes, my mother was Russian. And I love the literature. There’s nothing like it. This is not to take anything away from American writers but when you go back to Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Lermontov, and Gogol, it’s almost like being caught in a landscape of illusions.
Lowes Paradise Theatre in the Bronx. “It was comics and movies. That was my education.”
Would you share with us your special connection to comics. You grew up in the Bronx with comics.
Yes, that’s why it’s not so strange to be involved in the whole aura of comic books. I’m about to embark upon an animated series based on my Isaac Sidel crime novels. People talk about the special role of storyboard artists. Well, I’m a storyboard artist in the sense that I can see the storyboard in my head. I grew up with comics. I learned how to read with comics.
As you wrote in one of your articles, I’m one of the first people to make the crossover from fiction to comics. I started out as an artist but I had no talent at all. So, I needed artists to work with. And I was lucky to find some of the very best artists while I was living in France. Had I not been living in France, it probably would never have happened.
A SUIVRE, a Franco-Belgian comics magazine published from February 1978 to December 1997 by the Casterman.
Your work in comics began with your connection to the comics magazine, A SUIVRE.
Yes, the title means to be continued. It was an extraordinary magazine. It lost its circulation, which can happen as you move from one generation of readers to the next. The magazine reviewed one of my novels. I was sent a copy of the issue with the review and I was exposed to some of the most extraordinary art: Tardi, Bilal, and José Muñoz, a master of black & white. I wrote a letter to the editor, Jean-Paul Mougin, a wonderful editor. I wrote to him about my desire to work with an artist. He found for me François Boucq, and we were able to collaborate on several graphic novels, including “The Magician’s Wife.”
When you were entering into this collaboration, were you at all thinking that you were about to a make your mark on this exciting and emerging comics art form or were you thinking more of it as an interesting experiment?
I would say it was both. To declare that I was making my mark would have been thinking too far ahead. I adored the work Boucq did. I remember working in television for the first time twenty-five years ago. And I recall thinking that I would love hearing the lines that I wrote for the pilot, adapted from one of my novels. And I didn’t love it at all. But when I saw the art that François Boucq did, I almost cried. He took a story that I wrote and interpreted it in his own way. The results felt totally personal. On television, the words each actor and actress spoke had no relation to me whatsoever. I was startled. I’d seen the rushes. I thought I would really enjoy it. It was dead to me.
Do you recall what televsion show that was?
Yes. It was an adaptation of “The Good Policeman.”
I wanted to build a little more on what you’ve said about comics, that it comes in and out of reality. And you’ve talked about how one can linger upon a panel. The framework of comics is unique, is magical.
Yes, it is magical. It has its own framework, like a house. It’s architecture. The panels are pieces of architecture. Also, you can move them around and shift the logic. You can possibly do that in a novel but it’s going to be difficult for the reader. You see how I do that in “Jerzy.” I shift the narrative, in a way. It seems to me, going back to Krazy Kat, you move from panel to panel and you’re in a different landscape. That, to me, was very exciting. In other words, there were no rules. You could tell the story in any way you wanted.
“Once Upon a Droshky” by Jerome Charyn. Cover art by Edward Sorel.
I wanted to chat with you about your first novel, “Once Upon a Droshky,” published in 1964. It has beautiful cover art by Edward Sorel.
I really love that cover. I’m disappointed that I never worked with him again. I chose one of my friends to do the cover for my next book. That was a mistake since you shouldn’t mix friendship with art.
Is there anything you can share with us about Edward Sorel–did you guys socialize?
I think I did meet him. I do adore the cover. I don’t know why he was chosen. He was a young man at the time. It is simply a wonderful cover as it fits the book perfectly. I was delighted to learn that you had just interviewed him. Not only that, we both have the same publisher, Liveright.
You guys should have coffee some time.
I hope so. I would love to meet him. I always wanted to be a writer and, when you see your first book, it doesn’t seem real. I’m holding it in my hand right now and it still doesn’t seem real!
You seem to have anticipated my next question. I wonder if you could give us a window into that time, at the height of the modern era. Sorel could create the Great American Illustration and you could create the Great American Novel.
“Great American Novel,” no, but it was a time when serious literature thrived. Hemingway was still alive. I believe, Faulkner was still alive. Literature was at the center of the culture. It meant something to the culture. In other words, when I went to Columbia College, we spent four years just reading books. So, one did not talk about the possibility of whether or not you might become a doctor or a lawyer. That was incidental to the idea of learning a way of life. And that has remained with me. The greatest gift I ever had was spending four years studying books. We had a colloquium of ten students and two professors. In the colloquium there was a student who would go on to win a Nobel Prize, another student who became a professor of philosophy at Harvard, etc. These were all very serious guys with a murderous intellect. And literature was a kind of religion. It’s difficult for me to speak about the current generation. But I know that, at that time, literature was at the center of the culture. It meant something.
It’s always been a relatively small group of serious readers. Literature used to mean more to the general public–we’ve lost that.
We’ve lost a lot. There are fewer book reviews and fewer bookshops. It’s the same thing that’s happened to the movies. They’re just remakes of superhero flicks and a few small films. The small has disappeared. It’s the mega-book. It’s the mega-bomb, you know. And that’s not the kind of art that I want to do.
There’s something that Marilyn Monroe said toward the end of her career, and it’s my credo. She said, “I don’t want to be rich. I want to be wonderful.” I feel the same way. I love Marilyn Monroe but she had no idea how to live her life. When she moved back to L.A., she didn’t know how to furnish her house. All she had was a bed and a lamp. It’s kind of sad but also poetic at the same time.
You have an amazing formal education. But, first, you had comic books and the movies. Do those two forces strongly influence your work, the magical realism that keeps popping up?
Yes. Remember, when you grow up with films, you have a visual sophistication that you don’t have in real life. I came from a very poor family. I remember going out with a girlfriend of mine. She came from a very aristocratic background. She was chastising me for not holding my knife the correct way. I seldom get angry. But I really exploded. I said that I lived all my life being told what to do and I didn’t want to be told how to eat. I didn’t have her table manners. I didn’t have her customs. I grew up like a kind of wolf.
But, on the other hand, I had this visual sophistication from a very early age. Joyce Carol Oates explained it to me. I thought that maybe I’d just seen so many movies. She said that maybe my brain was wired in a special way. In other words, I can distinctly remember the back of an actor’s head I had seen in a film thirty years ago. I don’t have to see the front of his face. That crazy visualization was imprinted in my brain.
There were no books in the house. It was comics and movies. That was my education. School didn’t give you much, just little things like how to spell.
“The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson” by Jerome Charyn
What can you tell us about your debut novel. What led you to choose the subject behind “Once Upon a Droshky”?
My grandparents came from the Lower East Side. You have to remember, I’d never traveled. I’d never been anywhere. Even as a kid, I very rarely went into Manhattan. Even though I was sophisticated in terms of what I read, I could not, at that point, take what I read and turn it into what I wanted to write. I had to find a theme, or a group of characters that made sense to me. I remember walking around the streets where my grandparent lived on the Lower East Side. And I can still recall the Yiddish theaters—the marquees and the actors. So, in my first novel, I picked a Yiddish actor who is unemployed. And I was able to move into that world and find his voice. Voice is critical. Writing is music. There’s nothing else but the music.
I certainly enjoyed reading your first novel. I would encourage everyone to grab an existing copy while you still can. It would definitely make sense for this book to come back in a new edition.
That’s when you get into issues of commerce. At some point, things will either work out or not. I’m grateful that I was able to do it. Someone will ask me about how I wrote that novel. Well, I found the music for it. And, for a long time, while I was living in Europe, I’d lost the music. I really wasn’t able to write. I was only able to write about New York. I was able to write stories about New York but I wasn’t able to be more adventurous. Language is a gift that can disappear as quickly as it can reappear. It’s almost magical. You write in a dream. It’s really a dream state. I don’t know how artists draw. I can only tell you how I write. You’re writing in a dream.
Your body of work is breathtaking. When someone goes over the many titles and considers the quality of the work, it’s stunning. A recent example is “The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.” I had not read that much of Dickinson prior to reading your book. But I have now. And your novel is quite beautiful.
Thank you. I like that book a lot. I was chastised for writing in a woman’s voice. I’d rediscovered Emily Dickinson rather late. I’d never read her letters before and they are just as extraordinary as her poems. I knew I wasn’t finished with her. So, I started “A Loaded Gun.” The wondrous fact is that she never wanted to publish her work. She was like Kafka in a way. She had a secret self that was very tough. People don’t recognize her toughness. And this is what I wanted to write about.
“Bitter Bronx: Thirteen Stories” by Jerome Charyn
I wanted to ask you about your story collection, “Bitter Bronx.” I would recommend that as a wonderful point of entry. I love the fable-like quality to the stories. They remind me, in a way, of J.D. Salinger.
I’m not a great admirer of “Catcher in the Rye.” But I love “The Nine Stories.” I read them in high school. There are three or four of those stories that can make you cry with sadness and delight. The important thing is a book that you can reread and still feel the same affection: Ernest Hemingway’s early stories, Flannery O’Connor, Grace Paley, Isaac Babel. The thing about “Bitter Bronx” is that I had to relearn the craft. My editor in France suggested that I write a collection of stories about the Bronx, and like Yankee Doodle, that became my quest.
I want to call attention to the four recent graphic novel re-issues, translated in English, by Dover Publications. Readers can follow up on my previous reviews for that. I also want to call attention to FAMILY MAN, a crime noir graphic novel that will receive a deluxe reprint from IT’S ALIVE Press led by Drew Ford.
We currently have a Kickstarter campaign for “Family Man.” Drew Ford has not received the recognition that he deserves. He is a shrewd editor and gets exactly what he’s looking for from a project.
Page from FAMILY MAN by Jerome Charyn and Joe Staton
Tell us about “Family Man.”
Andy Helfer was the editor at DC Comics. I was interested in writing a Batman story but they had other ideas.
I’ll bet you could get your Batman story today.
Yes, but I’m no longer interested. Jeanette Kahn, president of DC Comics, was interested in one of my novels for a comics adaptation. At the time, in the very small printed format for “Family Man” in three stingy booklets, I didn’t like the art. However, when I finally saw the original art, I loved it.
The deluxe edition is faithful to all the duotone details of the original work.
My quirkiest question for you: You have these leather masks that all the trainees wear in “Billy Budd, KGB.” Where did you get those masks?
They just came from my head!
Well, they’re very arresting visuals!
Trump cartoon by François Boucq for Le Monde.
The thing is that Boucq is an extraordinary artist. When he focuses in on a subject, he gets extraordinary results. These days, he also does political cartoons for Le Monde. For “Billy Budd, KGB,” Boucq made certain changes in the story. Mine was more of a straightforward spy story. Boucq added in the Native American spiritual quality.
That reminds me of your Isaac Sidel stories. What can you tell us about the “Hard Apple” animated series based on your crime series?
We hope to get eight half hour narratives based on the first book, “Blue Eyes.” Then continue from book to book. I’ve done what they call the bible which is a summary of the characters. And soon I will be working on the pilot. I am excited about it. I didn’t realize how lyrical one could be in that animated format. The original idea, six or seven years ago, was to do a live action series. When we moved from that to animation, that’s really my country.
Then you have “Winter Warning” coming out.
Yes, the twelfth book in the series. It may be the last but at least we’ve completed the series. As you know, the main character ends up becoming president of the United States. He’s a Trump-like character. In his case, he’s a Trump of the left, rather than of the right.
Do you think that Donald Trump would make an interesting character to write about or are the people working for him more interesting?
I really don’t know. He’s a phenomenon we never thought would have happened, coming out of reality television. The country has changed so much that now a television star can become president and there will probably be other television star presidents. Say what you will about him, but he was able to speak to the American people in a way that the other candidate could not, except maybe Bernie Sanders.
I hope we may see a re-issue of “Panna Maria.”
Yes, everything in its time. If you shove to hard, you lose everything. You have to see it within its own sequence. If “Family Man” works, then everything else will work.
Things need time to breathe.
Yes. Right now, I’m working on a sequel to “Little Tulip.” I have a wonderful Belgian editor. And we’re at work on a graphic novel of Charlemagne.
It’s great how you rekindled your relationship with François Boucq.
That was through this editor. François Boucq had moved from Casterman to Le Lombard. And that editor, at Le Lombard, said that he grew up on “Billy Budd, KGB” and wanted us to work together again. Let’s say it was my stupidity that had led to our falling out. It was a pity since we could have done wonderful work all this time.
That was through this editor. François Boucq had moved from Casterman to Le Lombard. And that editor, at Le Lombard, said that he grew up on “Billy Budd, KGB” and wanted us to work together again. Let’s say it was my stupidity that had led to our falling out. It was a pity since we could have done wonderful work all this time.
And I look forward to the “Hard Apple” animated series. That’s being put together by Tomer and Asaf Hanuka, who created art for the animated movie “Waltz With Bashir.” They’re twins. One does covers for The New Yorker. It’s going to be a wonderful animated series. It’s a chance to do something that’s never been done before.
It would be great to pick up the thread again sometime, especially leading up to the next, perhaps last, Isaac Sidel book.
As you can see the discussion is endless: the relationship between comics and novels, the whole notion of graphic art, the notion of narrative in every form, we could be talking for days.
Your book, “Movieland,” there’s an hour of conversation right there.
Exactly. You should pick up a copy of “Metropolis,” my book on New York, when you get a chance.
I really appreciate your interest. And we’ll talk again.
Thank you for your time.
“Winter Warning,” Book 12 in the Isaac Sidel crime novel series.
Click the link below to listen to the podcast interview right here.
Be sure to visit the Jerome Charyn website here. And be sure to check out the FAMILY MAN graphic novel Kickstarter campaign, running thru May 21st, right here.
In Herman Melville’s last novel, “Billy Budd,” we follow the fate of an orphan plucked from adversity and conscripted into the British Royal Navy. In the graphic novel by Jerome Charyn and François Boucq, the lost little orphan is carted off into the service of the Soviet Union. Like Melville’s main character, there is something special about this boy. As we find in much of Charyn’s work, we have a protagonist of limited means compelled to honor his great potential. However, as we begin, we have only an emotionally stunted, ignorant lad with a hideous harelip. It is 1954. Stalin is in power. Yuri cannot resist all that is offered to him by the Soviets. In fact, he has no choice. “Billy Bud, KGB,” originally released in France in 1990, has recently been re-issued, with a new English translation by Jerome Charyn, by Dover Comics and Graphic Novels.
Four graphic novels by Jerome Charyn, available from Dover Publications.
Mr. Charyn’s literary career began in America in 1964 with his first novel, “Once Upon a Droshky,” a story of underdogs fighting to remain in their tenement apartment. After 19 prose novels, including the Isaac Sidel crime noir series, Charyn decided to adapt one of his stories into a graphic novel. That led to more. It all began with 1987’s “The Magician’s Wife,” with artist François Boucq. They also collaborated on 2014’s “Little Tulip.” Another graphic novel by Charyn in a similar spirit is 1991’s “The Boys of Sheriff Street,” with artist Jacques de Loustal. All four of these stories have multi-layered plots, primarily set in New York City, and filled with offbeat characters.
Yuri encounters the spiritual realm.
Our main character, Yuri, seems to be a typical malleable cog but something burns inside him making him go astray. He is far too innocent and ignorant to be in command of his intuitive desire to rebel. All he knows is that there must be more to life than what his Soviet handlers are telling him. Luckily, Yuri stumbles into a friendship with an instructor that will inform the rest of his life. Comrade Grigori’s unique artistic skills and broad knowledge have made him an asset over the years at the KGB training camp. But that same treasure trove of knowledge makes him very dangerous to the Soviet agenda. As a tutor, mentor, and friend, he provides Yuri with a key to unlock his soul.
It’s not easy being a spy.
By fits and starts, Yuri emerges as material for a competent secret agent. The KGB arranges a few encounters with prostitutes in order to, in their view, make Yuri more worldly. And then he’s shipped off to America. His new identity, a knowing nod to Melville: William “Billy” Budd, the lost soul. It will be up to the newly minted Billy in New York City to struggle with his life’s purpose. Stavrogin plucked him out of a ditch and gave him a future. Grigori opened his eyes to life’s possibilities. And Red Eagle, a Native American mystic, may offer him the salvation he’s hungered for all along.
Yuri gains a deeper spiritual connection.
Both Charyn and Boucq work in such a synchronized and nuanced manner that was as rare a treat then as it is now. Such pairing can only happen when the time is right. Today, readers in America and in general, are far more receptive to this level of quality. While a unique challenge, some creators choose to control all aspects of their work alone. But, as this graphic novel collaboration makes clear, the results can be stunning when writer and artist work together. We can all thank novelist Jerome Charyn for being a true trailblazer in adding his unique literary talent to the pantheon of exemplary work in comics. This book is a mesmerizing story and comics of the first order.
BILLY BUDD, KGB by Jerome Charyn and François Boucq
“Billy Bud, KGB” is a 144-page full color trade paperback. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Dover Publications right here. You can find it at Amazon right here.
Also note a Kickstarter campaign going on now thru May 21st for a deluxe reprint of FAMILY MAN, a collaboration between Jerome Charyn and Joe Staton.