Saturday, March 14, 2009

Barthélémy Schwartz's, Balthazar Kaplan's and Others' Dorénavant

Everything started with Thierry Lagarde's article "Pour une critique nouvelle" (for a new criticism; STP # 0, first quarter of 1977: 4, 5). Lagarde saw what he called a paranoia in comics criticism: on one hand comics critics wanted comics to be legitimized among the other arts as the ninth in the elitist club; on the other hand they refused to judge comics using external criteria: "comics are what they are, i. e.: children's entertainment [little mickeys], and I don't want them to be anything else" (Philaz in Sphinx # 9 / 10, 1974; as quoted by Lagarde, my translation). It's possible to find this anti-intellectualism in the comics milieu, even today. The so-called "comics specificity" is a good excuse to mask the babymen's canon's mediocrity. In the end this attitude can be summed up as follows: I want to win, but I don't want to play. Grow up, indeed! To be fair: the former and the latter may not be exactly the same individuals...
I find particularly interesting those comics critics who, knowing nothing about the arts because they just read children's comics and humor, praise mediocre or so-so comics artists and writers as if they were the cats pajamas. These critics practice what Thierry Lagarde called "le gonflage" (the inflating; ditto: 5).
Another good point in Lagarde's article can be named (as Bruno Lecigne did in "De la confusion des languages" - on the confusion of the languages -, Controverse # 1 - controversy -, May, 1985: 5; my translation) the "amalgame" (the blending): "formerly undervalued in toto, comics are, today, valued as a whole. [...] [W]e don't know what we mean exactly when we talk about comics, or, we don't refer to the same things. The practice of the blending leads to the confusion of the languages." What this mixture entails to comics critics is a well known phenomenon (ditto: 5): "everything is valued in a bulk, according to undifferentiated criteria."
The mingle applied by babymen readers is Team Comics (Tom Spurgeon: "Editorial: Martin Wagner Owes Me Fifty Bucks," The Comics Journal # 211: 2: "comic fans are often paralyzed by nostalgia and the need for self-identity." Lecigne, again (5): "there's a sub-cultural practice of the ghetto, limited by a common mood, on the margins of the official culture." It's an "us versus them" mentality that views any discriminating critical practices as a threat to the whole. The rest of the world, on the other hand, does a mix of its own: comics are children's entertainment garbage (and I'm stirring too, of course).
Bruno Lecigne's concept of blending has consequences when we distinguish hacks from true authors (something that mergers usually don't do). These classifications are constructed, but they have meaning inside the system that produced them: namely Modernism since Romanticism. Lecigne acknowledges this (and I think that he would also grant Postmodernism's Anti-Individualism), what he doesn't accept is the dishonest confusion of commercial criteria (the stereotypes and formulas that do well in the box-office again and again) with aesthetic judgment. The author may be dead, but some authors are a lot more dead than others. Besides (ditto: 23; my translation): "facing a process of fetishization, peculiar to a para-cultural ritual, every analytical distance or any conceptual ease are seen as a psychological menace." This threat may very well explain elitist accusations and the politics of fun. Babymen will be babymen.
Étienne Robial, publisher of Futuropolis (the original one, not today's Futuropolis) tells it better than me ("La bande dessinée se meurt: merci la «critique»!" - comics are dying: thank you "critics" -, L'année de la bande dessinée 81 / 82, Temps Futurs, fourth quarter of 1981: 241): "we witness the burial of every really interesting experience to satisfy the narrow taste of a fistful of juvenile hacks dressing shorts under their suits and keeping lollipops in their pockets while they wait for recess."
Meanwhile... Balthazar Kaplan and Barthélémy Schwartz appear on stage. Barthélémy Schwartz remembers (L'éprouvette - the test-tube - # 2, L'Association, July, 2006: 354, my translation): "In January 1985 we sent a false Swarte to Angoulême comic con titled Anton Makasar présente: misére de la bande dessinée [Anton Makasar presents: the misery of comics]. The following March we sent to several critics the détournement of a comic by Hergé which we titled L'Affaire Balthazar Kaplan. It had a long subtitle describing our agenda: "a few simple thesis in favor of a modern debate; the one that will allow comics to truly be an original art form or misery of comics."" "De la misère"(on misery) by Barthélémy Schwartz was published in Bruno Lecigne's Controverse # 3 (January, 1986: 15 - 19) and it was reprinted in L'éprouvette # 2. In this short text the author, not exactly a critic, but an author who questioned comics (and, unavoidable fact: flew the milieu and its putrid waters after a few years), attacked the market and wrote things like "saying that a certain comic is commercial and another one is an author's creation means nothing today" (L'éprouvette # 2: 328; my translation). In other words: 1) it's too easy to be an author in the amalgamated comics milieu; and 2) Kaplan and Schwartz refused to apply the aforementioned epithet "author" to those who practiced what they called "the storyboard" (i. e.: those who did narrative comics: they were true avant-garde modernists who wanted to produce formalist comics, devoid of narration; the narrative was wrongly seen by them, methinks, as belonging to the realm of literature and film). In "De la misère" Schwartz also states that comics artists should stop trying to make a living doing comics if they want to be true authors. With Revue Dorénavant (henceforth magazine; # 1, March, 1986 - # 7 / 8, January, 1989) Barthélémy Schwartz and Balthazar Kaplan put their money where their mouths were. (Stéphane Goarnisson and Yves Dymen joined Schwartz for the last issue - Kaplan had already left.) Both continued to write their theoretical texts (something rarely seen among comics creators), they gleefully registered the angered reactions of the babymen to the mag and, finally, they did their non-narrative comics. For that alone, they deserve to be in any serious comics canon.

the cover of Dorénavant # 5 (March 1987).

PS Barthélémy Schwartz's Flickr and Picasa albums:

and blog:


Barthélémy Schwartz said...

Message pour Domingos Isabelinho
(à ne pas publier sur le site)


Le site Blogger que j'utilisais est fermé, voici le nouveau blog (WordPress) :

Le Scratch Book se trouve sur Flickr, mais aussi sur Picasa :

Merci de bien vouloir rectifier les liens que vous avez sympathiquement indiqués,

Barthélémy Schwartz

Isabelinho said...

Très bien, merci!