BD80: Ardeur by Alex & Daniel Varenne

Ardeur by Alex & Daniel Varenne (1979-1986)

This (sort of) dystopian post-WWIII series was published as a serial in Charlie Mensuel between 1979 and 1986, as far as I can tell. I say “sort of”, because where it starts out isn’t where it (sort of) ended up.

Ok, here’s how it starts:

A pilot (the titular Ardeur) is trying to get back home to France after the world has been (pretty much) destroyed by a nuclear war. He’s been horribly burned himself, and that’s why he wears that mask.

“The flames lick Ardeur’s masked face, as in the nuclear armageddon, and he feels his skin melt again…”

It’s quite punk. The similarities between the above and (the later) Jimbo nucular stuff (by Gary Panter) displays a similar aesthetic, don’t you think? Although Alex Varenne is a lot older than Panter — Varenne was born in 1939.

And what about this great page?

Pop art mashed up with punk, right?

Anyway! The story. Ardeur winds his way to Warsaw, and it turns out that he has a secret microfiche with plans for a new, deadlier plane (bits of some factions have survived, you see). And then he (and new friends) get involved with scull and dagger stuff possibly on behalf of one secret service or other… One of the agents is even called James Mumble Bond.

We move to Berlin and… seem to totally forget that we’re in a post-WWIII world. It’s not mentioned a lot after a couple hundred pages, at least. Instead there’s more … intrigue.

The art continues to evolve at a rapid clip. Alex Varenne has used heavy zip-a-tone from the start, but it gets less pop-art-ey and more expressionist. Or something. Kinda gorgeous, whatever you’d call it.

On some pages, though, perhaps this absent-minded toning doesn’t quite work?

1979 alex daniel varenne ardeur 14The zip-a-tone covering the guy in the first panel, for instance…  Hm…

Anyway, after about 350 pages, we leave Ardeur (without any real conclusion to his quest… whatever it was), and for 50 pages we spend some time with one minor character from the previous stories, and then 50 more with another minor character from the previous stories.

And then it ends.

Charlie Mensuel ceased publication around the time that the series ended. Or rather, it was merged with Pilote and called Pilote et Charlie. Perhaps that’s why it stopped? Or perhaps the Varenne brothers grew tired of it and didn’t know where to take it?

I think the latter seems likely from how the storyline developed. And Alex Varenne started drawing porn comics in 1984, which may have distracted him… (If he’s famous for anything, it’s those porn comics from the 80s and the 90s.)

In 2014, a collected edition was published, allegedly with a final chapter to end the… storyline. (Ahem.) It hasn’t been translated, but I really hope it will.

So: Is it any good? Yes! The first 200 pages in particular. It’s tense and taut. Sure, it’s a post apocalyptic road movie, I mean comic book, but it’s an exciting one. The art work helps a lot, of course, in maintaining the vague sense of unsettling mystery, but it’s a compelling read.

And then, in the last 150 pages or so, it’s not so compelling any more. But it sure is pretty.

This post is part of the BD80 series.

BD80: Comès

Le dieu vivant by Comès (1974)

This early sci-fi pot boiler (serialised in Pilote 1970/71) is not a particularly auspicious start for my grand re-reading of European(ish) comics from the 80s(ish). For one, I hadn’t actually read this before, but picked it hup from Faraos a couple of weeks ago.

But it is the first available translated work by Comès (born in Belgium in 1942), so I wanted it anyway.

The less said about the plot, the better, but I thought I’d just note the apparent influences from US superhero comics. For instance, doesn’t that crackle look a bit Kirbyish?

And doesn’t the design of the evil bad guy (FSVO) look slightly Ditkoish?

I think so.

A second volume featuring the same protagonist was released in 1980, but isn’t available in any language I understand.

Silence by Comès (1980)

Now we’re talking. This was Comès’ break through work. It was serialised in (À suivre) in 1979, and won a prize at the d’Angoulême in 1981. And it’s easy to see why.

Silence is the story of a mute village idiot (ahem) who’s mistreated by the entire village, but taken under the wing of the village witch who’s out for revenge. Yeah, I know. But, while it’s a pretty clunky work (particularly the endless scenes of info dumping necessary to let us know why the revenge is needed), there are scenes of real power here.

And plenty of nice pages like this (that has more than a smidgen of a Tardi influence):

So it holds up pretty well. And the end is still affecting.

Comès seems to have dropped all the influences from super hero books. Instead he’s gone for Hugo Pratt in a major way, which is fine by me. While the influence is strong, he has his own voice.

As an aside, I’ve never quite understood while people who draw like Comès feels the need to drop in super-detailed drawings of machinery:

It’s pretty jarring. Pratt does this too — you have pages and pages of purdy purdy expressionistic (er, or something) drawing, and then whenever a car appears, it looks like he’s just cut and pasted a schematic drawing from some car factory catalogue. Perhaps they have assistants that draw these pesky automobiles?

 


La Bellette by Comès (1983)

A pregnant woman, her mute autistic son and her husband moves to a small village. Mysterious things happen! Witchery! Murder! Priests!

But it’s a quite effective piece. It’s very creepy. The tension is palpable. It’s only somewhat let down by Comès’ inability to stop over-explaining everything. I think that every mystery in the book had as a resolution that either one character did a “as you know, Bob” speech to another character, or we suddenly were made aware of their thoughts. And their thoughts were always on the “as I know, Bob…” form.

Oh, well. But this is in many ways a better work than Silence. I’m always up for some anti-clericalism.

And his artwork is also evolving:

I love those insectile faces. A soupçon of José Muñoz, perhaps?

The cars are as jarring as always:

Silence had a mute protagonist. La Bellette had a mute autistic character, and a semi-mute deranged villain. So perhaps the next album will have three mute characters?

 

Eva by Comès (1984)

Think… Rebecca and Psycho mashed up with a deranged robot plot. With lots of boobs.

That’s basically it. Gothic. Gooothic.

What about mutes? Well… there’s a ventriloquist supplying most of the voices for the robots, so I think you could make the case that there’s dozens of mutes in this one.

It still looks very pretty, though:

This was serialised in (À suivre) in 1984 and didn’t win any prizes.

 


L’Arbre-coeur by Comès (1988)

A traumatised reporter returns from the Afghan wars and deals with trauma by retreating into fantasy. And by avoiding some childhood friends who try to kill her.

It’s an odd mix, but it kinda almost works.

There is, of course, the obligatory Comès scene where, as you know, Bob, everything is explained down to the very last detail.

And look: He’s conquered the difficult car conundrum:

This work was serialised in (À suivre) in 1987-88. He created two more works — Iris (in 1991) and La Maison où rêvent les arbre (1995) — for (À suivre), and two albums for Casterman (2000 and 2006). None of these have been translated widely.

He died in 2013.

This post is part of the BD80 series.

BD80

I grew up way up north in Norway. I was really into comic books. I liked American comic books just fine (both superheroes and stuff like Love & Rockets and Cerebus), but I loved arty French(ey) “albums” the most.

When I was about 14 (in 1982), more complex comics started being translated into Scandinavian languages. It seemed like an endless stream of wonderful French(ish) comics were being published. Tardi, the Varenne brothers, Hugo Pratt, Bilal, Comès, Manara, Moebius, Franquin… Each time I got a new catalogue from Denmark, there was something new and wonderful to order.

And then it suddenly stopped. Either because they ran out of the really major artists to translate, or because the audience had moved on.

I was reading this stuff pretty much in a vacuum. The only comics magazine I read was The Comics Journal, and that didn’t cover European comics much, but it seemed like that amazing five-year spurt of marvellous translated work was driven by an overhang of work from the late 70s and early 80s. The work from that period seemed to have a lot of ambition, tackling political and social issues in an interesting way. Some somewhat hippyish and “mystical”, and some not.

The 70s, dude.

By the time the translators had caught up, the French comics scene seemed to have devolved into sci-fi, porn, and sci-fi porn, and not much else. It recovered after a while, but I lost track.

Meanwhile, all these albums had remained in cases in the house I grew up in. I’d always wanted to bring them with me, but being a student didn’t give me that much storage room. And then later, so much new, great stuff was being published (mainly in the US) that it was hard just to keep up. (At one point I had an unread backlog stack two meters high.)

But, finally, this Xmas I rooted through the boxes and selected 90kg of albums and shipped them down. They’re now here.

DSC01045Most of these I’ve read time and time again as a teenager, but I haven’t read them in more than 25 years. I’m curious as to whether they’re good as good as I thought they were.

So that’s the project: I’m going to re-read a bunch of these, write a bit about them, and post some scans of some pages.  I’ll avoid works that have been widely reprinted lately (like Tardi and Corto Maltese), and try to pick some artists that interesting, but (perhaps) a bit forgotten.

I’ll try to post about one artist per day for about a week, at least.  Let’s see how that goes…