Tag Archives: France

Interview: Jerome Charyn and the Art of Fiction in Prose and in Comics

Portrait of Jerome Charyn by Henry Chamberlain

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.

Exactly.

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 will.

I really appreciate your interest. And we’ll talk again.

Thank you for your time.

Thank you.

“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.

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Filed under Comics, Crime Fiction, Donald Trump, Fiction, Interviews, Jerome Charyn, Jerzy Kosinski, New York City

Review: ‘Ville avoisinant la Terre’ by Jorj A. Mhaya

Our hero

Taking a global view, there’s isn’t a hotter book right now than “Ville avoisinant la Terre,” by Jorj A. Mhaya. It was originally published in Arabic in 2011 by Dar Onboz. And it has been recently translated into French by Éditions Denoël. This is a gorgeous book and it is only a matter of time before there is an English translation. In the meantime, I would encourage you to seek it out now and get ahead of the pack. If you enjoy the convenience of Amazon, you can find it right here. Let’s take a closer look.

The setting: Beirut, Lebanon

Over years, I’ve enjoyed a number of comics in languages I don’t know well or at all. For example, you don’t have to know French to enjoy the artwork of Blutch or Tardi. And so it is with the artwork of Mhaya. He has a wonderfully sensitive and expressive line punctuated by his use of China black ink wash.

A map for some context.

You will get much of the gist of the narrative by simply following along our main character, Farid Tawill, a typical office worker from Beirut. It may be evident from what you see but, just in case, this man’s world has been turned upside down. On his way home from the office, he finds that the apartment building where he lives with his family has disappeared. Further along his search, he finds his whole city as become alien to him. Like a character out of Kafka, or from an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” our hero appears to be in an alternate reality.

Front cover of “Ville avoisinant la Terre” by Jorj A. Mhaya

Alienation is a favorite subject in art. Edvard Munch’s “Scream” series, first begun in 1893, is the most famous example. And it comes as no surprise that, over a hundred years later, we find Munch quite relevant–feel compelled to add more to the discourse on disconnection–and see how the world has forged some pretty heavy links. It’s not lost on Mhaya from his vantage point in Beirut.

Back cover of “Ville avoisinant la Terre” by Jorj A. Mhaya

Mhaya wants you to feel the surreal quality to his homeland. He has stated that he gained a lot of insight from the photojournalism he grew up with: the urgent black & white news photos during the Beirut civil war in the ’70s and ’80s help to inform his moody ink wash artwork.

Page excerpt from VLAT

How much more absurd can life seem to be than to live in a perpetual war zone? No wonder Mhaya has an obese Batman character chasing our hero down the streets.

Page excerpt from VLAT

What Mhaya has done with this book is set up a vehicle upon which to comment upon the absurdity of life, weaving back and forth from the specifics (his own experiences, views, and concepts) and the general human condition. This is what any great novelist, filmmaker, painter, etc. does on some level: set the stage and then perform. It is certainly a process well suited for a graphic novelist.

Page excerpt from VLAT

So, you can see that you can do very well from just reading the images. Yes, you do want the text. In fact, you do need the text. But we can live with just the images. We see the little hooks that motivate the artist: everything from a close-up of a mangy dog to a close-up of a woman’s pretty feet. This or that panel do not just appear out of nowhere. The dog is a symbol of isolation. The feet are a symbol of release.

Page excerpt from VLAT

It appears that our hero is forced to confront his life in every which way possible: philosophical, emotional, sexual, intellectual. He is not just in an alternate reality. He is in a place that forces him to experience a heightened sense of reality. His choices, what he learns, what he survives, will determine his fate.

“Ville avoisinant la Terre” by Jorj A. Mhaya

And here I am commenting up a storm and I’m only relying upon the pictures! Well, it makes total sense that this book went first with a French translation in order to make the natural progression to being part of the prestigious Angoulême Comics Festival. And now English readers can’t wait to join in. The loose translation in English to this book is “City Neighboring the Earth.” I look forward to that title in the near future.

“Ville avoisinant la Terre,” by Jorj A. Mhaya, is an 88-page hardcover, black & white with tones, translated into French by Éditions Denoël. Find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Angoulême, Angoulême Comics Festival, Éditions Denoël, Beirut, Comics, France, Franz Kafka, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jorj A. Mhaya, Lebanon, Middle East

ECCC 2017 Interview: Pénélope Bagieu and CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

Illustrator and cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu is like any gifted artist: curious, industrious, and someone who welcomes a good obsession. I say that in the best sense of having an obsession since artists need them to spur on their work. Bagieu followed her muse to the music legend Cass Elliot. You can read my review of her graphic novel, “California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas,” published by First Second Books, right here. I had an opportunity to chat with Bagieu. We discuss her book, her thoughts on music, and what lies ahead.

We begin this video interview with my sharing with Pénélope my encountering the hit song and title of her book while I was having lunch. It seemed a bit uncanny to me. Pénélope did not exactly shrug off the observation but quickly acknowledged how ubiquitous that song is. And how powerful. It is every bit a work from the Sixties and yet totally co-exists in a timeless Neverland. Certain songs from that era aimed for such a vibe but precious few attained that quality. And so it was to be with Cass Elliot, one of the few to reach an ethereal and graceful immortality.

CALFORNIA DREAMIN' by Pénélope Bagieu

CALFORNIA DREAMIN’ by Pénélope Bagieu

Before we started rolling video, Pénélope was telling me about her visiting MoPOP here in Seattle. She said, if she could, she would live in that museum. That sort of sentiment won me over all the more. You can catch more of that thread in the interview when Pénélope responds to my asking her about the power of music.

What I would like to suggest to you is that, if you are going to Emerald City Comicon (and I’d love to hear from you about ECCC either on or off this blog) make sure to visit the First Second Books booth #1602 on the exhibit floor and get yourself an advance copy of “California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas.” For those of you not fortunate enough to visit, I highly recommend that you get a copy at your local comics shop, bookstore, or online.

exquisite-corpse-penelope-bagieu Pénélope Bagieu is an illustrator and cartoonist worthy of as big a reading audience as possible. CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ is her second book to come out in an English language edition with First Second Books. Her first book was EXQUISITE CORPSE. Both of these titles, and others, originally were published in France by Gallimard. You can easily find EXQUISITE CORPSE online and I highly recommend that you do so. This is a 128-page full color hardcover. It is a sophisticated comedy about a young woman who becomes involved with an older man who happens to be a famous author. The question is whether she is in over her head or perhaps it is the other way around. There are a number of twists as the story builds. Bagieu has a keen sense of humor and wonderful timing. The main character of 22-year-old Zoe is full of life and quite memorable.

For more details on CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’, visit MacMillan Publishers right here.

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Filed under Bande Dessinée, Comics, ECCC, Emerald City Comicon, European Comics, First Second, France, French Comics, Humor, Penelope Bagieu, Seattle

Review: THE STRANGER by Jacques Ferrandez

Meursault and Raymond Sintes entered into an ill-fated friendship.

Meursault and Raymond Sintes entered into an ill-fated friendship.

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.

A young man with plenty on his mind.

A young man with plenty on his mind.

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.

Jacques Ferrandez's "The Stranger," published by Pegasus Books

Jacques Ferrandez’s “The Stranger,” published by Pegasus Books

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.

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Filed under Albert Camus, Comics, Existentialism, French Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jacques Ferrandez, Pegasus Books

Review: PORTUGAL by Cyril Pedrosa

Evoking a Quiet Moment

A quiet moment.

Evoking a quiet moment is one of the most natural and satisfying things to do as a cartoonist. A story takes shape. A conflict. A conversation. Before long, a compelling story unfolds like Cyril Pedrosa’s “Portugal,” published by Europe Comics. Sometimes what is not said is as important as what is said. Pedrosa plays with the spaces in between words. This is the story of Simon, a young man struggling to find his place in the world despite the fact it would appear that he has everything in place: a loving mate to share a life with, a promising future in his chosen career, and the potential for lifelong stability. But Simon does not see it that way at all.

A conflict. Simon is a man who still feels he is only a boy–or a young man with much to learn. Simon is at that age when life has taken root from all directions but he is not ready to settle down. He must either break free or reassess his current state–do something instead of just vacillate. Pedrosa has created a perfect depiction of a Peter Pan syndrome: Simon refuses to grow up. Of course, Simon must grow up in some sense since he’s miserable. Claire, his longtime girlfriend, has been beyond patient with him. The clock is ticking but nothing is moving forward for Simon. Not the most inspiring or likable of main characters, right? Ah, but this is the stuff of life. This is a compelling story told in words and pictures by a master cartoonist. It also happens to be loosely based upon the author’s own self-journey. In 2006, at age 33, Pedrosa had his own reassessing to do.

A conflict.

A conflict.

A conversation. And then another. Pedrosa does a beautiful job of exploring Simon’s struggle even when his main character is the least cooperative, either hovering or drowning. There seems to always be someone open to pursuing a conversation with him not the least of which is Claire, Simon’s beautiful but beleaguered girlfriend. Nothing seems to get through to Simon. In one scene, Claire literally spells it out for Simon. If only he were to say that he wishes her to stay, she would stay with him. Simon has perfected his way of coping with the world: as little movement as possible; as few words as possible. In this case, with Claire, he chooses to remain silent. It is a moment that rings so true during the process of a breakup. Sometimes, one must read between the lines–or no lines.

A conversation.

A conversation.

Another conversation. And then another. If there is one thing Simon needs most, it is to talk and Pedrosa throws his main character into numerous opportunities to do just that. In fact, Simon, stumbles upon what will save him during a visit to a comics festival in Lisbon, Portugal. It is an chance for Simon to socialize with his fellow cartoonists as well as with the public. The interaction invigorates Simon.

PORTUGAL by Cyril Pedrosa

PORTUGAL by Cyril Pedrosa

It takes Simon a while to put two and two together. The reason that his Portugal visit enlivened him was that it gave him time to consider his Portuguese roots on his father’s side of the family. The third act to this graphic novel finds Simon finally turning to family after having remained in his own isolated bubble for so many years. While being around family alone won’t solve his problems, and may cause new ones, it does help Simon find some answers. With some luck and a new will to live, Simon may very well find himself no longer the boy in the bubble. Pedrosa provides you with an exquisitely paced narrative able to pause for quiet moments and sustain the delicate rhythms of human interaction.

Here is a trailer for the book:

Sometimes, as Pedrosa puts it, a story’s journey must go through a labyrinth. Pedrosa, in his own words, shares the process of making the book:

If you are going to the Small Press Expo in Maryland, the Brooklyn Book Festival, or are in New York City, be sure to catch Cyril Pedrosa during his North American book tour in support of PORTUGAL, published by Europe Comics, and EQUINOXES, published by NBM. On Monday, September 12th, you can see Pedrosa in conversation with Bill Kartalopoulos and Gabrielle Bell at Albertine bookstore. For details, click the image below:

U.S. Book Tour for Cyril Pedrosa

U.S. Book Tour for Cyril Pedrosa

PORTUGAL by Cyril Pedrosa is a 261-page hardcover in full color. For more details, visit Europe Comics right here. You can also find PORTUGAL at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Bill Kartalopoulos, Comics, Cyril Pedrosa, Europe Comics, European Comics, Gabrielle Bell, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, NBM, NBM Publishing, Small Press Expo, SPX

Review: ‘Guardians of the Louvre’

Jiro Taniguchi Louvre comics

I would love to know the details on the Louvre series published by NBM. This latest installment, “Guardians of the Louvre,” by acclaimed manga artist Jirô Taniguchi just goes to show once again how unique this subject is and the endless possibilities for it. What a great cartoonist wants in a project, especially one who both writes and draws and has done so for many years, is a task worthy of the enormous effort. And, to sweeten the deal, make it something heroic. A cartoonist loves it when he or she can make a grand gesture.

Reading Guardians of the Louvre

Reading Guardians of the Louvre

What I’m saying about the grand gesture is so very true. Look at how Taniguchi responds to the task: his main character/alter ego is reduced to a little heap in comparison to the Louvre and its many treasures, opportunities, and mysteries. He arrives in Paris completely spent from a bad case of the flu. He is completely overwhelmed, out of his element, his observations through a fever dream. Like Little Nemo on his magic flying bed, we set off on a most unusual journey.

The Louvre, outside of any known realm.

The Louvre, outside of any known realm.

Our hero, due to a bad rabbit stew or some such mishap, is now in tune with the supernatural elements of the Louvre. When you consider that we are talking about a museum that is over 200 years old, as large as ten football fields, holding 70,000 pieces of art going back to antiquity, well, it would not be surprising to find that it has many tales to tell and that it is at least a bit haunted, right? Taniguchi asks that you run with that idea.

And so one grand gesture leads to another. We see poltergeist in all their gloopy glory floating about. We meet a beautiful ghost, presumably the Winged Victory. And, it just goes on from there as we go in and out of time, meet various artists long gone expect very much alive in this moment. The Louvre is a House of Leaves. It is a place that insists you shed your normal skin and walk amongst it. You inhabit a place such as the Louvre and you can’t help but let it inhabit you.

“Guardians of the Louvre” is the latest in the NBM Louvre series. It is a full color hardcover, right to left reading manga-style, 8 x 11, 136 pages. For more details, go right here.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Art History, Comics, France, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, NBM Publishing, Paris, The Louvre

Review: Girl Over Paris #1 (of 4) (The Cirque American Series)

Jules Maroni out to prove them wrong.

Jules Maroni out to prove them wrong.

Jules Maroni is a celebrity tightrope walker connected to the supernatural in the latest comic from Amazon’s Jet City Comics. I love a good story with complications. Part of the fun of reading a comic that is hinting at something spooky around the corner is how it creates its trail of breadcrumbs. “Girl Over Paris” sets the tone for a spooky adventure with style and joie de vivre.

Part of Gwenda Bond’s CIRQUE AMERICAN universe, this story, written by Kate Leth (Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat!, Adventure Time: Seeing Red), follows Jules and the gang as they fly from the U.S. to France in order to perform at a big event and allow Jules to regain her stature after a long hiatus. Artwork by Ming Doyle (The Kitchen, Constantine: The Hellblazer) and colors by Andrew Dalhouse enhance the pixie-romantic quality to this tale.

Reading "Girl Over Paris #1"

Reading “Girl Over Paris #1”

There’s a lot of luscious detail to this comic that sets it apart. I like the gentle pace too. Ms. Leth does a wonderful job of allowing us into the innermost thoughts of Jules: she is making a comeback, opening up to her new boyfriend, and confronting a supernatural entity. That’s quite a lot for a first issue.

Girl Over Paris #1 (The Cirque American Series) is available as of July 6, 2016. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Review: ‘Cruising Through the Louvre’ by David Prudhomme

CRUISING THROUGH THE LOUVRE

CRUISING THROUGH THE LOUVRE

Paris, and the Louvre, are beacons to artists and art lovers and will always be. What we know is that such things matter dearly, are a deeply essential part of life. Now, in the aftershock of the horror of the terrorist attack in Brussels, we choose to remain alert and vigilant but we also choose to remain steadfast in our celebration of humanity at its best. There is no other way. So, with that in mind, it gives me added resolve and passion, as I share with you this latest item. Oh, yes, this is such a relevant book with that heightened sense of timelessness. Look at this book and you’ve met a good friend, David Prudhomme’s new graphic novel, “Cruising Through the Louvre,” published by NBM Publishing.

With old pal, Rembrandt

With old pal, Rembrandt

David Prudhomme is a man to watch, indeed. He is a fellow cartoonist who I would love to meet sometime. I’m sure we’d have plenty to talk about. I see his work as full of a zest for life in all its lusty and gritty splendor. Now, take a cartoonist such as this and set him loose in the Louvre. Well, Mr. Prudhomme certainly lives up to the challenge. I know that, if I was set loose in the Louvre, I would have my own idiosyncratic view, and so it certainly is with this masterful artist. It may seem easy but to throw down the scenario of an offbeat observer wandering through some of the greatest art of all time is quite a mind-bending proposition. This requires a steady hand, brain, and hours of editing as all these impressions that come to mind must finally adhere to some coherent narrative.

Reading "Cruising Through the Louvre," by David Prudhomme

Reading “Cruising Through the Louvre,” by David Prudhomme

Prudhomme has a beautifully loose style that evokes a stream of consciousness outlook. Prudhomme is in the Louvre ostensibly to find his girlfriend, Jeanne. This may or may never happen. That does not really matter. The guy is wearing a baggy coat, a huge Russian fur cap with ear flaps, and he’s got his cell phone at the ready. He gets to spend some time with his good pal, Rembrandt, and then he’s on the move, looking for Jeanne, marveling over art, and endlessly people-watching. The sensory overload is intoxicating. Soon he is recombining people with art: one tourist’s foot aligns with the foot from a sculpture; or one sleepy heap of museum patrons seamlessly fit as an extension of Théodore Géricault’s “The Raft of the Medusa.”

A zest for life

A zest for life

We enter into a whole other world when we inhabit such a place as the Louvre. It really isn’t something you want to leave for just a couple of hours. I would easily go each day for weeks, months, if not years. It would not take too much in the way of convincing for me to return to my old museum guard days. Roaming through such vast expression of sensual delight, it would also not take too much convincing for me to return to my days as a life drawing model. Ah, such is the power of the Louvre. But, most of all, it is a place that inspires me both as writer and artist. Everyone finds something to lose themselves in. Prudhomme is wonderfully uninhibited with his observations. He is keenly aware that, once out of one’s element, people can get in touch with content they would normally zone out. For instance, consider Prudhomme’s drawing of a tourist snapping a photo of an old warrior’s genitals. Well, within context, it makes total sense. Snap away!

What Mona Lisa saw

What Mona Lisa saw

The Louvre has always been a place for the people. Give people a chance to enjoy art, and they will rise to it. Give them the Louvre, and you have provided heaven on earth. Prudhomme does not shun or ridicule the public’s hearty appetite for snapping photos and video. In fact, instead of shaking his head over what some might dismiss as the spectacle over viewing the Mona Lisa, he wonders what people do after they’ve gotten their good look. He also wonders what Mona Lisa would see if she bothered to look back at all her admirers. There’s no easy answer. There’s just too many people to consider. All that humanity enjoying their time in the Louvre for a multitude of reasons, no one reason being better or worse than the other! All this, Prudhomme manages to speak to in this quite remarkable book. Bravo! This is a keepsake that you will enjoy many times over.

"Cruising Through the Louvre," by David Prudhomme

“Cruising Through the Louvre,” by David Prudhomme

“Cruising Through the Louvre” is an 80-page full color hardcover. For more details, visit NBM Publishing right here.

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Filed under Comics, David Prudhomme, France, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, NBM, NBM Publishing, Paris, The Louvre, Travel

Review: THE MAGICIAN’S WIFE by François Boucq and Jerome Charyn

Velvet Verbone warms up to the case.

Velvet Verbone warms up to the case.

Ever since its publication in 1986, it has developed a cult following. It’s been out-of-print in English for 30 years. And THE MAGICIAN’S WIFE has not lost any of its magic. This is a prime example of what is possible in comics in the graphic novel format. Thanks to Drew Ford and Dover Publications, it is back! As your guide through comics, I strongly recommend that you put aside everything, your morning coffee, your late-night rendezvous, whatever, and seek this book out. It will change your life.

THE MAGICIAN'S WIFE by François Boucq and Jerome Charyn

THE MAGICIAN’S WIFE by François Boucq and Jerome Charyn

All these French masters who took an American art form, the comic strip, and transformed it into the graphic novel: Bilal, Boucq, Blutch, Tardi, Masse, Liberatore, and Loustal. I was in Paris in that heady time, circa 1988, and I most vividly recall as a very young aspiring cartoonist and writer that something very different and exciting was happening. In that same year, Drew Ford, as a youth, would stumble upon a copy of “The Magician’s Wife” in a secondhand shop in upstate New York. Drew Ford would go on to see that book get a proper reprint at Dover Publications after being out-of-print in English for oh too long. So, what is so exciting, and magical, about this particular comic? Well, it speaks to that desire for a truly ideal and satisfying entertainment. It manages to actually realize that dream of a comic that is perfect down to each and every panel. A fantastical story that strikes you with its poetry and poignancy. And there’s supernatural things going on to boot. Rita, the magician’s wife, could quite possibly be a werewolf.

Our story makes its way to New York City.

Our story makes its way to New York City.

Much in the irreverent and artistic French spirit, this is a story that simply is. In some sense, is it both a complex and straightforward visual treat. It is also a splendid work of surreal, absurd, whimsy. And, in the end, it is a very well-structured, undeniably tightly-knit story. It feels like a dream that goes on forever and yet you sense that it is also quite a lean and determined piece. Silly, fun, but also deadly serious. Full of symbolic impact. With a squarely-in-the-eyes shot to the deepest recesses of your mind. Graphic novels come from the city and this is very much an urban story full of gritty elements. Yes, this definitely has mature content. But, like in the best work of this kind, there is a certain level of restraint that makes this suitable for young teens and up.

Verbone continues to track down clues.

Verbone continues to track down clues.

Edmund, the magician in this story, is a cross between an amazing wizard and a cowardly ne’er-do-well. It is a struggle that will consume him and those that come into his orbit. Things move at a relatively steady clip in a work of comics. However, there a number of reasons to slow down the pacing: to convey a mood, to reinforce an idea, to thoroughly establish a setting. This comic manages to keep things moving while seeming to have all day to do it and all in a tidy 82 pages. I maintain that a comic need not run longer than 80 or 100 pages. You find your sweet spot and you don’t need to pad things up.

Edmund futilely attempts to show everyone who is boss.

Edmund futilely attempts to show everyone who is boss.

Consider the above page. Not too much obvious movement but you can quickly sense a rapid energy at work as well. This is a pivotal moment for Edmund: he is momentarily in full control and in the process of consolidating his position, and then he must confront a huge setback and a taste of what’s to come. We first find him emerging from a restful pose; then a full-figure attentive pose; followed by arm raised in confrontation; right in the center, an indignant look; his former lover defies him; he escalates the situation; finally, his new lover puts him in his place.

Edmund. Rita, Detective Verbone. Ah, all the misbegotten jockeys from Saratoga Springs. The gals at the diner. The regular group of cops too concerned with hamburgers. And the hoodlums from the Lower Eastside led by the monstrous Ross. And, for an added literary touch, Dolores, a name that keeps floating in and out of the narrative. At varying times, it belongs to someone’s sweetheart, an animal, and a maid. If only Dolores could be pinned down for just a moment, she might have something quite insightful to reveal. But, not to worry, perhaps the jockeys will carve up another horse. And everything rendered in this glorious semi-realistic style that floats along perfectly with great distinction–and such vivid color. Yes, this is it. This is the graphic novel you’ve been waiting for all your life. Get it at our friends at Dover Publications right here.

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Filed under Bande Dessinée, Comics, Dover Publications, François Boucq, France

French Comics Invasion: Reviews for Latest Titles from Delcourt Group Debuts In English on ComiXology

Delcourt-comiXology

Imagine that you are in Paris and you stroll into a local comics shop in search of comics, or “bande dessinée.” There are plenty of BD shops to choose from and, moreover, plenty of comics. Now, imagine that a massive selection of French comics is available to you right from wherever you happen to be. ComiXology presents to you what they like to call their own “French Invasion.” This week, comiXology unveiled its first line of titles from Delcourt Group, the leading independent comic book publisher in France.

We begin with five lead monthly titles and one lead graphic novel. Among the monthlies is “The Curse of The Wendigo” by Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard and writer Mathieu Missoffe. The lead graphic novel is “Come Prima” by Alfred, the Winner of the Prix du Meilleur Album at the 2014 Angoulême International Comics Festival. You can find them all by visiting our friends at comiXology right here.

Below you’ll find my reviews for all six of these titles. There are more than 150 Delcourt Group titles to be released exclusively by comiXology. This is truly a French comics invasion!

The-Curse-of-the-Wendigo

The Curse of the Wendigo written by Mathieu Missoffe and illustrated by Charlie Adlard.
To be published in two monthly installments, beginning July 6.
What creature is dangerous enough to unite the French and German troops in July of 1917? Only one man knows: Wohati, one of the 12,000 Native Americans in the U.S. Army. Wohati must lead two warring sides to solve the mystery of the Wendigo, for he alone understands the horror of what’s out there waiting for them.

This is what comics are all about: a story that takes you to some very trippy and scary places with a masterful sense of horror mixed with biting satire. You get great character studies here as we go back and forth between French and German trench warfare. But there’s a common enemy that will compel both sides to lay down their arms against each other. And, emerging from the background, as he’s not much of a talker, is the Native American warrior, Wohati. With his help, these two mighty forces can find the bogey man they seek and then resume blowing each other’s heads off.

Iron-Squad

Iron Squad co-created and written by Jean-Luc Sala and illustrated by Ronan Toulhoat.
comiXology exclusive cover for issue 1 by Matteo Scalera (Secret Avengers)
To be published in ongoing monthly installments, beginning July 6.
What if new technology in 1944 turned the course of World War II and led the Germans to victory?

What would a batch of BD be without a good World War II tale? Ah, and this one takes the cake. It will be sure to please many a reader of many levels. Having just read Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle,” I was in just the right mood to check out “Iron Squad,” an alternate history story with quite a kick. Filled with all the details that make for a good war story and sci-fi story, you will lose yourself in the spectacle of it all.

Josephine

Josephine created, written and illustrated by Pénélope Bagieu
To be published in ongoing monthly installments, beginning July 6.
Cartoonist and blogger Pénélope Bagieu tells the story of Josephine, featuring professional relationships gone awry, a series of faux pas, and many a failed romance.

“Josephine” is a perfect example of quirky light humor. Just as you may expect, we follow our heroine on a series of misadventures. She’s the cute girl who marches to the beat of a different drummer. This is a collection of webcomics that grows on you as you take it all in. I would be surprised to find this collection on the laptop of one of the characters from “Girls” but it would fit right in.

Prométhée

Prométhée created, written and illustrated by Chrisopher Bec
To be published in ongoing monthly installments, beginning July 6.
Preface by bestselling writer Mark Waid (Insufferable)
comiXology exclusive cover for issue 2 by Andrea Sorentino (Old Man Logan)
What happened on September 21, 2019 at 1:13 PM can never be explained. And then, for 13 consecutive days, another unexplainable phenomenon occurs&hellip every day at exactly 1:13 PM. Prométhée is a mind-bending science fiction story written and drawn by Chrisopher Bec that recalls Lost and the very best science fiction.

This sort of heroic over-the-top story is a prime example of solid adventure BD. Full of larger-than-life characters tasked to save planet Earth, you better fasten your seat belt before you blast off. This is quite a treat as we follow a story full of mystery involving alien technology and a fateful Space Shuttle mission set in the not so distant future.

Spin-Angels

Spin Angels co-created and written by Jean-Luc Sala and illustrated by Pierre-Mony Chan
To be published in ongoing monthly installments, beginning July 6.
The bestselling, action-filled Spin Angels series features a Catholic Church Cardinal who runs a black-ops group of spies, and the mafia godfather who puts his very best hitman in service of the Vatican in order to settle a debt.

You’ve got to have at least one adrenaline-fueled adventure involving the Knights Templar! Turns out there’s a strong lead indicating holy relics, long since thought part of Templar myth, are to be found in present day Nova Scotia. Of course, it will take nothing less than an A-team commando squad to fight off all the interested parties. If you’re looking for a fantasy-laden madcap BD adventure, then this is for you.

Come-Prima

Come Prima created, written and drawn by Alfred
To be published on July 6.
With his award winning graphic novel Come Prima, Alfred (Why I Killed Peter) has created a poignant homage to Italian cinema and a surprising story about two brothers who hit the road following their father’s death.

The master cartoonist Alfred brings to life a most vivid world with a crisp and economical style. More cartoonists would do well to learn from him. We begin with a yell, “Fabio!” This leads us to bold and muscular scenery: a French cityscape, a boxing match, a boxing poster. It is circa 1958. Giovanni has come for his brother, Fabio, who seems to always find a way to escape responsibility.

It appears that Giovanni offers a path to redemption. Fabio, we can tell early on, is distant and yet vulnerable. He resists the call back home to Italy up until he sees that his brother is holding an urn with his father’s ashes. That is too much, and so begins a journey.

Alfred offers up a poignant story with plenty of twists and turns. We find that Giovanni is not so much the saintly son. And Fabio is not entirely the brute. But they can dig their heels in too and conflict is always around the corner.

Ultimately, we cheer them on and wish them as safe a journey as is possible. Quite a realistic story of two stubborn men coming to terms with life, mortality, and something greater than themselves.

And so there’s reviews for the first round of titles from Delcourt. You can find all these titles by visiting our friends at comiXology right here.

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Filed under Bande Dessinée, BD, Comics, Comixology, Delcourt, European Comics, France, French Comics