BD80: Rebecca

Rebecca by Brandoli & Queirolo (1985)

Neither Anna Brandoli (artist) nor Renato Queirolo (writer) are prolific comics makers. Together, they’ve published five albums, and Brandoli has made one additional book without Queirolo. Rebecca remains their most well-known work.

Rebecca began publication in the Italian monthly magazine linus (all in lower case, for some reason) in 1981. And, man, look at that artwork. It’s so arresting. The harsh blacks that encroach from every side, and the tight close-ups of the faces alternating with the longer shots.

But it’s not really “filmatic”, fortunately: It’s pure comics. The storytelling is sometimes rather oblique, and what happens is often rather vague. But everything becomes clear a few pages later when you realise what those footprints means, and why that woman is so happy all of a sudden. And it generally carries on this way: You’re reading in a state that oscillates between bewilderment and enlightenment. It’s wonderful!

The story, as it turns out, isn’t all that mysterious. It’s basically a “heist movie”. That is, there are people who want to achieve something (having to do with money or power) and other people plotting against them, and things go wrong and then go right. And it’s set in the late fourteen hundreds, which make these “chapter headings” (seen above) ring true. This one says “3. Where it turns out that a curse is nothing to joke about, and money may be hidden in the most curious places”. It’s a teasing way to foreshadow what may be happening in the chapter. (And I would assume that each chapter was published in linus per month or something.) They’re mostly misleading, which adds to the fun.

The artwork is obviously influenced by Hugo Pratt. That’s a very Prattian cape.

But there’s also a strong Jose Muñoz influence there, like that face to the left. But more insectile.

And perhaps a bit of Didier Comès, too? But Brandoli’s arwork is more than just a collection of influences; it’s fluid and expressive and original.

I also wonder how many BD artists have been influenced by Brandoli in turn. This looks not that different from what David B would a decade later…

It’s obvious that the creators had a lot of fun creating this book. Not only from the mischievousness of the narrative, but also from the extras included in the appendix. We get a sketch of every player in the intrigues (and there’s a lot) complete with their biography.

I testamenti di Sant’Ambrogio by Brandoli & Queirolo (1988)

The next story was projected as a three-part series, and features many of the same characters as the first story, but also a whole bunch of new ones. There’s at least a dozen main players, all plotting against each other in a quest to solve the mystery of the titular testament (which is divided into three parts that have to be brought together). You know. The normal stuff.

It’s printed in colour, but it doesn’t really look like it was drawn for colour. Brandoli drawn exactly the same way as before, with blacks heavily spotted in. Which makes it difficult for the colourist to do much, but it’s also a practical problem: With this printing process, you have three choices: You colour exactly up to where the white space ends (and if the registration is a fraction of a millimetre off, you get unsightly white lines here and there), or you colour a bit into the black fields (but then you get a blotchy black because you can see the difference between the pure black and the black-with-colour over), or you colour in even the black parts (and then all the black looks rather muddy).

The colourist chose the third way, which means that everything has this queasy muddiness and sameyness to it. While the first black & white album was stark and gripping, the eyes skid more around these pages without really grasping onto anything.

But it’s still very entertaining. The title here is “A short parenthesis about the importance of human warmth”. Indeed.

And then, after 92 pages of a very complicated and amusing plot, it ends rather abruptly. Not exactly on a cliffhanger, but more of a “whaa…?”-hanger. (There should be a word for that.)

The back page promises a third volume to follow in 1989, but that didn’t happen.

But perhaps that’s about to be rectified! Quoth Wikipedia via Google Translate:

In 2016 in an interview Queirolo said that, along with Brandoli, would like to bring to a conclusion the story of Rebecca who had been suspended: “It will not be only the conclusion of an old story, that enigma will be dissolved within a new story full of surprises and with greater maturity and depth of the “characters.

Let’s hope so! And when that happens, I also hope that these books get a wide reprinting, because they’re rather spiffy.

But in black and white, please.

This post is part of the BD80 series.

BD80: Simon du Fleuve

The first batch of French(ish) comics I wrote a bit about a year and a half ago were mostly all comics that I had read many, many times as a teenager. This time out, I remember even less about these comics than I did the last time.

First we have Simon du Fleuve (which means something like Simon of the River) by Auclair. I remember that it’s a post-apocalyptic adventure story, and heavy on the politics. It’s anti Fascism and pro ecology. I think. A woke Mad Max. Kinda. Or is it?

Let’s find out.

Le clan des Centaures by Auclair (1976)

Claude Auclair was born in 1943, and started doing comics in the early 70s. Simon du Fleuve was serialised in the French weekly Tintin magazine starting in 1974.

His artwork is, perhaps, a bit generic and rugged. You can see some Giraud influence, but it’s a slightly vague style: Not a real departure from other adventure artists like William Vance or Hermann.

Anyway, the first five albums are, pretty much, one single story. We’re in a post-apocalyptic Europe that went off the rails in the early 70s. Most people now live in agrarian communes, except the evil overlords who still occupy the semi-dead major cities.

The old guy explains how this all happened, but he’s … a bit vague. There were wars? And… something? And then everybody lives in the countryside.

And they are very happy here. Except when bandits raid them or the Evil Overlords pay a visit.

Les esclaves by Auclair (1977)

Which they do from time to time, because they need workers for their evil ironworks.

Just so that you won’t miss the allusion to other popular Fascists from history, all the slaves get short-short hairdos and numbered tattoos.

Sorry, writing this, I notice that I’m slipping into a default sarcastic tone, and I didn’t want to do that. Yes, Auclair is didactic and sometimes overbearing, but the comics aren’t failures: They are often moving and heartfelt. And they’re created by someone who I feel wanted to offer something positive: Everything isn’t hopeless, because people can make a difference.

Simon helps organise a slave breakout, of course, because this is an adventure comic book. But he does this by recruiting three others who then come up with a plan to mobilise the slaves themselves, and who then enter the encampment and set up a revolt. This isn’t the kind of comic where the hero goes blazing in and fixes everything by waving his hand, but by creating a situation where resistance can happen.

And then he comes blazing in and kills a bunch of guards. And feels really shitty about doing so.

Maïlis by Auclair (1978)

After all that action (for some values of), Simon retreats to a swamp where (basically) a Gothic mystery happens without furthering the central plot (which is a MacGuffin (oops, spoilers)).

There’s romance in the air. Let me translate the dialogue from the first two panels.

“Oh, Simon, it’s you… Give me your catch, and I’ll clean the fish.”

“I can do it myself.”

“But that’s a woman’s job.”

“Why? It doesn’t have to be. It’s a different age now… We can’t live as we did before…”

And then Simon runs into a broken down nuclear plant where he meets hundreds of these mutants. Looks a bit like Mad Magazine, doesn’t it? I think they’re meant to be horrifying, though, and we all learn a lesson about how nuclear energy is bad. Really bad.

And no heroics from Simon.

Les pélerins by Auclair (1978)

Geeze, I’m, like recapping these comics, and I didn’t mean to do that, either… Hm… Well, Simon meets up with another happy, happy agrarian community (and some very nice pagans).

The storytelling in Simon du Fleuve is very old-fashioned. There’s a lot of captioning that partly restates what we’re seeing in the artwork, and always explaining how Simon is feeling. It’s a style that virtually nobody has used for the last couple of decades (except Brandon Graham, who has tried to revive it (I like it)). But it’s not too overpowering. And Auclair does draw very pleasant pastoral scenes.

And then we learn that Christianity is bad and is a tool used by the evil rulers to oppress the people.

And again, it’s hard not to sound sarcastic when recapping here. It’s not that Auclair is wrong (he’s obviously right about almost all the issues he’s touching upon), but you can play 70s Lefty Issues Bingo with Simon du Fleuve. It’s a bit much.

Cité N.W.N°3 by Auclair (1979)

The fifth album brings the story to a close. Simon reaches the bad city and tries to MacGuffin the Red Herring.

We’re also told some tales by an oldtimer where he explains that the Earth was also attacked by these giant sea urchins from Venus. (Yes. That’s what it says.) I’m pretty sure nothing of the kind had been mentioned up ’till this point, so that’s… a thing.

The album is the weakest of them all, with endless monologues about this and that. Simon is, at this point, against using any kind of violence against anybody, so it’s up to the other people (like the older guy up there) to provide the action.

If I were to hazard a guess, I think Auclair had written himself into a corner with his central character, or perhaps he had just planned on this five album arch all along. In any case, he abandoned Simon du Fleuve in 1978.

L’eveilleur by Riondet & Auclair (1988)

Ten years later, Auclair resurrected the Simon de Fleuve series. Sort of. He brought in Alain Riondet as writer, and the feel of the series changes rather dramatically. Instead of being didactically political, the first of these new albums is all about spirituality and re-awakening the dying Earth through… er… magic, or something.

The storytelling shifts between silent vistas and people who talk and talk and talk. Didactically about spirituality and stuff.

That’s what these meetings amongst the raised stones are all about. There are also “infertile” mutants running around harshing the buzz of these spiritual people, but not a lot of tension is generated.

Let’s translate a typical speech bubble: “West! Your name has thunder and the spring in it, and your name is the source of the riddle! So think about your name and don’t forget who you are!!… More than that I cannot say.”

I don’t think I can say more, either.

Le chemins de l’Ogam by Riondet & Auclair (1988)

The next book is a further withdrawal into psychology. The change from politics to mysticism and the personal isn’t unique for Auclair in French comics: Quite a lot of people who had made politically explicit works in the 70s turned to either some wishy-washy vaguely “eastern” philosophy, or wrote about mythologies and the subconscious.

Most of the book is Simon having various mythological fantasies (or are they?) before returning to his family as a reborn, stable man again.

Auclair sometimes cheats a bit too much in his artwork. Faces are rather inconsistent and vague, and he retreats into dark corners of rooms given any opportunity.

Naufrage by Riondet & Auclair (1989)

The two last books in the series, Naufrage tome 1 & 2, were published in this single Danish volume, and it’s easy to see why. The previous two volumes may have tried the patience of any remaining Simon du Flauve fans, but this one is beyond.

It’s about an insane matriarch ruling a fishing village with an iron hand, and Simon and his family somehow get involved. Most of the post-apocalyptic trappings have disappeared, although sometimes in the dialogue we’re reminded that “they” are still out there. But, basically, everything that happens here could as well have happened in a small, say, Scottish fishing village now.  I mean.  But not. Not have happened.  You know what I mean.

And that includes the tools they have. Getting a trawling net is apparently little problem, and doing the upkeep on their rather big ships is totally under control. (Not to mention that they all seem to have rather modern clothes. (Oops! I mentioned it!))

While the story is tedious, the artwork is rather nice, especially in the (very dramatic) silent scenes. It seems like whenever there’s dialogue, Auclair loses interest and just gets it done. Well. A bit.

The book ends with Simon and family sailing off into the sunset, which is appropriate.

Riondet and Auclair continued the collaboration with two non-Simon albums called Celui-là. I haven’t read them. Auclair died while completing the second album, and Tardi and Jean-Claude Mézières stepped in to finish the final pages.

Riondet went on to collaborate with artist Stéphane Dubois. Riondet then disappeared in 1998.

This post is part of the BD80 series.

BD80 Reloaded

Almost two years ago, I did a small series of posts on a bunch of Franco/Belgian comics. The urge to write about another small stack of them hit me all of a sudden, so:

As with the previous series, I’ll be covering works that aren’t well-known these days. There’s not that much point in writing yet another article about, say, Corto Maltese or Valerian. Instead I’ll be re-reading slightly more obscure works that I remember fondly from when I was a teenager and writing about them instead.

So half nostalgia and half curiosity: What was it about these French(ey) comics that was so exciting back then, and are they still any good, considering that most of them haven’t seen print outside of France for thirty years?

I’ll be doing one post per day for a week, and I should be able to keep to that schedule by… cheating! I’ve already written most of the articles, so I already know the answer to the questions above! Haha! Fake-out!

The first article follows in a few minutes.

Half Page BD: An RT Investigation

A while ago I read the following in an article on Hooded Utilitarian:

[…] the revolution that really drove Heavy Metal was very distinctly French and had a lot more to do with the format of how French comics were serialized than with any kind of musical aesthetic, something that is largely transparent to Anglophones. Instead of serializing stories 22 pages at a time on a monthly basis, French BD magazines serialize their stories half a page at a time in weekly anthologies and have done since the 50s. It was a technique made popular with Tintin magazine, and perfected by Spirou. By the end of the 60s, Pilote (under the editorial guidance of Rene Goscinny, not coincidentally, the writer of Asterix) was the big boy on the block, largely due to this production methodology.

The collected editions of popular stories and characters would stack half-pages together to create magazine-sized albums. Take a look at any French (or European) BD collection produced before 1970 – Asterix, Valerian, Corto Maltese, Blueberry, Philemon, Spirou – and you will notice a white gutter running horizontally through the middle of almost every page in the book. This is a direct artifact of the serialization methodology, regardless of whether the story was actually serialized or not. There were occasional splash pages in these books, but that’s more of an exception than a rule.

While I recognised the “half page” phenomena in virtually all older Frenchey (that’s a word) comics, I was rather puzzled. The standard post-war European comics length is 46 pages. Two times 46 is (where’s my slide ruler), er, uhm, 92. Stay with me here, even though the math is getting complicated.

So, 92 half pages on a weekly schedule. That would be… like… a year and a half to read an Asterix or Blueberry story. I know the French are very cultured and stuff, but that French children were this patient, even in the 50s and 60s, didn’t seem intuitively correct.

And some stories are even longer: A 58 page length isn’t uncommon, either, especially in the 70s. Were 70s children that patient? Two years for a Spirou story?

Now, if you’re American (and so many people are these days), you have no idea what I’m talking about at all, so allow me to illustrate with some pictures taken from a couple of random bande dessinées (that’s Frenchey for “comics”).

First we have a page from a 70s Spirou page by Fournier (in a recent Danish edition).

As you can see, the page is as described in the quote. The page has a gutter in the middle.

p1340075

Above the middle gutter, the artist has written “9A” in a box.

And below the second part, the artist has written “9B”.

I’ve never seen any of the original magazines Frenchey comics were serialised in, and the A/B thing has intrigued me ever since I was a child and read stacks and stacks of Frenchey albums (translated into other languages, since I don’t understand French. Much).

So that’s the explanation, eh? Incredibly patient French children? My!

But!

In case you don’t read Danish (and if you’re American (it happens) you probably don’t), it says that these pages were originally published in Spirou from issues 1682 to 1710 (that’s 29 issues (math again)) in the period from July 9th 1970 to January 21st 1971 (that’s about half a year (guesswork again)).

And this story is 58 pages long.

If we, again, apply our fantastic maths knowledge here, we see that instead of publishing half a page every week, this story was published at a rate of two pages per week. That is, French children were only a quarter as patient as originally suggested.

Still pretty good, but not extraordinary.

But that may be a fluke. Let’s look at another example. Above is a page from Valérian et Laureline, the album version of Le pays sans étoile, collected in 1972. It, too, has the half-page division and the A/B numbering on most pages.

This page says that it was “44 planches dans Pilote no 569 à 592 et couverture du no 570”. Like I said, I don’t know French, but I’m going to take a stab here and say that it says something like “44 pages from Pilote issue 569 to 592 with frog legs and potato au gratin”.

That’s (MORE MATH!) 24 issues. As this is a 46 page story, that’s about (NOO!) 1.9166666 pages per issue. WHICH DOESN”T MAKE SENSE.

Perhaps they overslept one week.

In any case, it’s more than half a page per week.  Again.

(As an aside, Mezieres uses quite a few non-regular non-half-page layouts, too, like this one, which has a rare A/B/C marking.)

At this point, I feel like it’s time to go out on a limb here and call it: Classic Frenchey comics were not serialised at the pace of half a page per week.

But there is a phenomenon here: There’s the A/B thing on a vast majority of these pages. What does that mean?

Perhaps… even if the normal pace was two pages per week, perhaps they were published in half-page layouts? Every page half-full of ads? Sounds awfully uncultured and un-French, but at this point we have to use not math, but Google Image Search.

Here a very helpful person has written about an issue of Pilote from the 60s.

Scrolling down that page, I don’t see a single half page comic. Virtually all of them do use the “gutter in the middle” layout, though.

(To digress a bit more from this in-depth investigation, I didn’t know that these magazines used to run a logo (and stuff) at the top of each page. That explains why albums are kinda “squat” format wise, since these logos are excluded in the collection.)

Googling for pages of the Spirou magazine is slightly more difficult, but here’s one, at least:

It’s from the mid-60s, and … it’s a full page. The only half-page results I got in the search were Gaston Lagaffe, but they are half-page gags and were apparently run on the covers for a while.

So: European comics were not published on a half-page-a-week basis, and they were published as full pages.

So what’s up with the A/B thing? WHAT? Was there a paper shortage and everybody just drew on smaller paper? Is it more ergonomic with smaller page?  Less stretching over the drawing table? Were the comics reformatted into smaller books? Were the editors just peculiar? WHAT?!

tabaryGoogling for people at their drawing tables (“table à dessin”?) from olden times is difficult. I found the drawing above by Tabary where he does show himself with half page pages, but that’s not exactly a smoking gun, evidence wise…

Finding modern artists is easy, and they draw full pages, but that’s no surprise since they don’t use the half-page layout.  Usually.

This investigation has gone as far as it can (i.e., I’m hungry now and I have to go make dinner), so unless something extraordinary happens (like somebody who knows what’s up with those A/B half-page layouts leaves a comment here), I guess we’ll just never know.

BD80: Tardiesque

Hugo Pratt and José Muñoz are probably the two cartoonists who influenced most European comics in the late 70s/early 80s. It rare to flip through a black-and-white album from that period and not see some influence from those two. (And a bit later, from Moebius.)

But there’s another artist that seems to have been a very powerful influence on younger artists: Jacques Tardi. In this, the final section of the BD80 series, I’ll present three albums that have these things in common: They’re the first (or an early) album from each artist, the albums look an awfully lot like Tardi, and each artist dropped the Tardi influences after a while.

Hopital

Hopital by Ted Benoit (1979)

Benoit was 32 years old when Hopital was published. It’s a story of people checking into a soap opera like hospital, and never really checking out. It’s pretty amusing, but somewhat slight.

But look at those Tardiesque shadows. And then a few years later, Benoit’s artwork looks like this:

It’s like a mash up of Edgar P Jacobs and Joost Swarte. Quite a change…

 

Alger

Alger by Gunnar Krantz (1986)

This debut album by the Swedish cartoonist Gunnar Krantz was published when he was 26. The story details, as you’d expect from a Swedish 26 year old, a journey from Paris to Algeria and back again, complete with Algerian bombers, kidnappings and betrayal.

All done in a very Tardiesque manner:

I sort of get the feeling that things would look even more like Tardi if only Krantz could draw better. But it’s a fun enough work, and, I’m sorry to say, probably Krantz most enjoyable comic book.

Here’s what his artwork looks like now:

I’m not sure what you’d call that style… er… Perhaps he should have stuck with the Tardi.

 

Shelter

Shelter by Chantal Montellier (1983)

This isn’t actually Montellier’s first album, as I had thought. Published in 1980, Montellier had been publishing comics for two years already. Born in 1947, she published her first work in 1978, confusingly enough called 1996.

Anyway, this album is about people trapped in an underground shopping center after a nuclear war. Montellier conveys the mounting creepiness very effectively as this new society becomes ever more repressing. I have to say that I found the resolution less than satisfying, though.

I really like the artwork, too. Sure, it’s more Tardi than Tardi here and there, but can you really be too Tardi? I think not.

Unfortunately, she’s had very few albums translated into other languages, so I’m not sure what her evolution has been. Here’s a recent cover, though:

Not very tardiesque any more.

I hope somebody starts translating her other work, because I’d really like to read more of her stuff.

So there you go. Is early onset Tardi a common diagnosis? Is there something in particular about his style that’s so attractive to younger artists?

This post is part of the BD80 series.