BD80: Caza

Scènes de la vie de banlieue by Caza (1979)

Caza is a prolific French artist (real name Philippe Cazaumayou) who has been doing comics since the early 70s (and continues to publish to this day). However, very little has been translated into any language I can read. (Except various stuff in various issues of Heavy Metal, but I can’t seem to find an index at the moment…)

So this post is just about two works, and kinda encapsulates a lot of what’s great and frustrating about French comics.

The first book is a Danish omnibus collection of Caza’s mid-70s work for Pilote under the collective name “Scenes of Suburban Life” (if I were to hazard an English translation. Or “Scenes from Life in Suburbia”?). These were released as three separate albums in France, but (in an unusual move for the Danes in 1980) released as one single tome. Which is a good idea, I think.

I remember buying this book. We were on a holiday in Copenhagen, and I visited my first real comic book shop for the first time, and I literally died. Literally! I was 12, and it was all rather overwhelming. I chose this book out of all the ones available probably a lot because it was bigger than the rest. And because it looks really cool.

I remember reading the verbiage on the right-hand page above like it was a serious sci-fi text, but later my older sister read the same page and started laughing. A lot. That’s how I realised that this was supposed to be funny.

And it is. The very word-heavy pieces can be a slog to get through if you’re not in the mood, but they’re quite playful in the way they pile absurdity upon exaggeration. And, of course, the artwork is very appealing in an occasionally disgusting way.

Many of the stories are about the French everyman Marcel Miquelon (seen in the topmost panels above with his wife (of various names)) who’s disturbed by noise coming from the flat above. He investigates and happens upon one absurd thing after another, usually getting killed in the process.

Not all of these have aged all that well, though. This one, for instance, he visits his nice black neighbours and they turn out to be cannibals (that presumably kill them). The end. Yes, that’s absurd, but is it funny?

For once Marcel gets a revenge on Caza. After having a horrible nightmare where Caza tortures him (once again), he takes decisive action against the artist (who lives above him, of course).

These pieces are meant to be funny, of course, and they are, but they also want to engage with society. Behind all the humour, there’s a real anger and disgust with modern society. Caza also offers various symbolic and fantastic ways out of the predicament, and they’re sometimes kinda moving.

All in all I have to say that I had really good taste when I was 12.

Laïlah by Caza (1988)

But then… eight years later we have Laïlah. Back in the early 80s, in my early teens, when I was buying most of the comics featured in this blog series, it seemed like there was a never-ending flow of great French-ey comics from Europe flowing into my hands. And then it kinda stopped. I had no idea why, at the time, but I turned to American comics instead.

As I understand it now, what had happened in France is that following the success of Metal Hurlant, there was a major shakeup in the way comics were published. The old weekly stand-bys like Pilote magazine saw a drastic decrease in readership. This again led to an implosion in venues older comic artists had to publish their work in. So when I was starting to read these comics, it was already really over, but there was a backlog of things to translate.

While in the early 70s it seemed like anybody could publish anything, in any genre, now what sold was porn, sci-fi and, of course, sci-fi porn. Laïlah is from that apotheosis of the 80s French-ey scene.

It’s still nicely drawn, but not with the same obsessiveness and attention to detail as in the Banlieue stories. One of the stories in this album (originally published in Metal Hurland) is humorous (illustrated above), while the other two are very… er… mystical. Which is another common path for French artists in the 80s (viz. Simon le Fleuve).

Caza is still publishing today, but (like I said) not available for me to read. Perhaps it’s just too French? I don’t know. The Banlieue book is still funny, but perhaps you need an older sister to tell you so.

This post is part of the BD80 series.

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.

WFC Pakistan: دختر‎

Hey! Clever film-making. I thought this film was totally going one way, but then it swerved a completely different way. Me like.

It’s very exciting (in parts), has great cinematography (although the scenery is sometimes so pretty you might suspect it’s been sponsored by The Tourist Council of Northern Pakistan) and the actors are somewhere between pretty good and great.

The weird shakycam is annoying. Much of the footage is from inside the cabin of a truck, and the camera and the actors always seem to be bouncing around in opposite direction. Did they use a steadycam or something? It doesn’t look natural.

The plot becomes a bit convoluted, but still obvious, towards the end and loses all semblance of tension.

Dukhtar. Afia Nathaniel. 2014. Pakistan.

Rooh Afza Cosmopolitan

  • 3 parts Rooh Afza
  • 4 parts Triple Sec
  • 3 parts lemon juice
  • 3 parts orange juice
  • 3 parts simple syrup
  • 7 parts vodka

Shake vigorously with ice and double strain into a cocktail glass. Rim the edge with an orange wedge. Garnish with an orange wedge.

This post is part of the World of Films and Cocktails series. Explore the map.

WFC Dominican Republic: Guaguasi

It turns out that Batista’s police weren’t very nice.

This film has its charms, but it’s really oddly paced. It’s a satirical look at the Cuban revolution with an, er, simple? (OK, developmentally challenged) “hick” at the center of the story. Horror ensues.

It’s a comedy of the “scathing satire” kind, which means that there aren’t really any laughs. But I think it could perhaps still have been a successful film if it had been cut down a couple of hours or so.

I mean half an hour. It just seemed that way while watching.

Guaguasi. Jorge Ulla. 1983. Dominican Republic.

Dominican Goddess

  • 3 parts white rum
  • 1 part grapefruit juice
  • lemon/lime soda

Shake with ice and strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Top off with the soda.

This post is part of the World of Films and Cocktails series. Explore the map.