Sunday, September 28, 2008

Jossot's Le Credo and Dressage

L'Assiette au Beurre (1901 - 1912) was a French anarchist satirical magazine. Great artists published their virulent words and drawings in the mag's pages: Felix Valloton, Kees Van Donguen, Frantisek Kupka, Juan Gris, Jacques Villon, are all important avant garde painters (from the nabis, Vallotton, to Fauvism, Van Donguen, to Cubism, the other three). This list would be impressive enough, but the best graphic artists of the age also published in L'Assiette: Benjamin Rabier (well known for his laughing animals, mainly for a certain cow linked to a cheese label), Caran d'Ache, Théophile Alexandre Steinlen (of Le Chat Noir fame), Adolphe Willette (ditto), Nadar, Gustave-Henri Jossot. Other contributors are not as well known as the above outfit, but they also deserve to be mentioned (a few at random; my excuses to all the others): Jules Grandjouan, Hermann Paul, Bernard Naudin, Aristide Delannoy, Louis Malteste, Ricardo Flores, Emmanuel Barcet, Auguste Roubille, Leal da Câmara. The latter is a relatively known, in his homeland that is, Portuguese cartoonist.
Here's a site dedicated to the magazine:

You can read Jossot's "Le credo", for free, here:

Ditto "dressage", here:

I have a confession to make: I have a problem with humor in the arts. I firmly believe that art's purpose (apart from formalist concerns that must always be present) is to unveil some kind of truth. Laughter, as Charles Baudelaire said more than a century ago (1855) is satanical:
Either we laugh for frivolous reasons or we laugh at someone's expenses. I would place satire above the innocent joke (if such a thing exists) no doubt, but a satirical caricature is always a simplification. If manichaeism and scope reduction is what bothers me in most mass art (children's comics included, of course) why do I like Jossot's satirical comics? And are they even comics at all?
Certainly there's no lineal story in "Le credo" (a lifetime is told in "Dressage"). This narrative form is often called a cycle. Modernism allowed other art forms to expand their limits. I see no valid reasons to deny comics such freedom. Plus: does a comic really need to tell a story (lineal or otherwise) in order to be called, a comic? I don't think so, and that's all I'm saying for now. As for disliking, up to a point, I must add, 99 % of what the comics milieu considers a canon of comics why do I accept Jossot's acrimonious rants against authority? Precisely because mass art tends to be tame (the masses accept what they already know a lot better) and Jossot's work has that kind of desperate energy that exists in a powerless cry. It approaches (being a moralist, he doesn't achieve it) Baudelaire's absolute comic: the grotesque. Also: like everybody else, I'm biased.
Jossot's drawing style owes a lot to Émile Bernard's cloisonisme and Art Nouveau's wavy lines. As all graphic artists at the time he also owes a lot to Toulouse-Lautrec. His drawings impose their presence as emblems. His thick lines convey stereotypes in a perfect way.

an anti-absinthe cartoon by Leal da Câmara.

PS I must add that, as I put it ages ago in Nemo, a humorist who laughs at his or her (our) own foibles and miseries is not satanic at all. I didn't know it at the time, but that's, more or less, what Giacomo Leopardi also said.

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