Monday, January 5, 2009

Edmond Baudoin's Le portrait




The big publishers always preferred their work-for-hire artists to remain anonymous as much as possible. They wanted the characters that they owned to be cultural icons, they didn't want the creators to be stars. The best example is undoubtedly the Walt Disney Company (it took a while until Malcolm Willits discovered who Carl "the good artist" Barks was; the year: 1957; Barks was "eating duck" - to paraphrase Hal Foster who "ate ape," i. e.: drew Tarzan during depression years -, since 1942). This attitude went against the grain of the 20th (and 21th) century, of course... Our age simply worships signatures. That's why, eventually, they had to give credit where credit is due...
A true pioneer in this respect was Etienne Robial, publisher of the often lauded Futuropolis publishing house. Many before him gave credit to the artists and writers, but it was Robial who first pushed the name of the artists (as "auteurs") to the forefront, to the cover of his collection 30/40, to be more precise (30 x 40, in centimeters, is the size of the books: 11.81 x 15.75 inches). Issue # 1 appeared in 1974 (Calvo).
Edmond Baudoin began his career in comics the year before with "Incident" (accident; Le canard sauvage - the wild duck -, # 3 - 1973, third quarter). A few years later, in 1981, he met Etienne Robial. In his own words (Baudoin by Philippe Sohet, Mosquito, 2001: 33; my translation): "It was a meeting of vital importance [for me]. It was one of those meetings that blows one up." Publishing at Futuropolis Edmond Baudoin was a trailblazer of autobio comics in France with Passe le Temps (time passes; 1982) and Couma Acò ("like this" in Provençal; about his grandfather; 1991). Other books were inspired by his own experiences: Le premier voyage (the first travel; 1987). After Futuropolis' demise he continued to create autobio comics at L'Association: Éloge de la poussière (in the praise of dust; about his mother; 1995), Terrains vagues (the waste lands; 1996); and Seuil: Piero (Baudoin's brother; 1998), to name a few... More than his own life and intimate thoughts, more than being just his family (with the exception of Piero), Baudoin focused on simple, low class people (living like dogs, as he put it in Couma Acò). In 1990 (April), it was Baudoin time at 30/40 (see above). As an intro, Etienne Robial wrote to Baudoin in the inside front cover of the book (again, my translation): "Edmond, I'm writing to tell you that I'm happy to publish your work in the 30/40 [collection]. You'll say that, after ten years of a common stubborn persistence and eight books, the least that we can say is that we love each other. And yet, our story together nearly had an early ending. Because, Edmond, I can't believe how you could be a pain in the ass with your lines. What was this line: clumsy, with no body[?] And that's not all, you always had a message to deliver, not forgetting the frame repetitions, almost tics, with your habit of always swinging clouds, birds, the wind in the hair. Unbelievable: you wanted to be romantico-poetical and everything turned sci-fi. Listening to you talking about your comics one could believe to be at the Salon des Indépendents. Sometimes I inclined myself a bit over my secretary to see if you wore flares. Almost. But, in spite of all that, I ended up believing in your famous line. As I see it, it's more than stubbornness. In 1985, as if love was evil’s sister [the miracle of the vowels], as a poet friend of yours would put it, everything changed. [And I mean] the first three pages of Un rubis sur les lèvres [a ruby on the lips]. Magnificent, you understood everything, at last: line economy, nothing was missing; the sun, the heat, the burning sand. Everything thanks to your... lines. I perspired... I breathed... But, take note, Edmond, it's not finished. I'm looking forward to read the stories that you'll tell me with your lines, but be careful with them, I will not accept to go back to the Salon des Indépendents again." The story published in 1990 in this sumptuous size was "Le portrait" (the portrait). Baudoin was at the time in a relationship with dancer Carol Vanni (the model for the model dancer, Carol; the model for the painter was Michel Houssin: Michel; years later we can witness, in Terrains vagues, how his relationship with Carol - Louise - gets eroded). The above quote seems cruel, but Robial doesn't exaggerate a thing (he was quite unfair to the anti-kitsch Salon des Indépendents, though; maybe he meant the Salon tout court?). Even if Edmond Baudoin is light years from his first inauspicious first efforts, a certain sentimentality can still be detected here and there in his work. Not in "Le portrait," methinks... It's a story about one of Edmond Baudoin's recurring themes: drawing itself and how inadequate it (art) is to capture life. Maybe that's exactly the paradox: we kill what we capture. It doesn't matter one bit if love is involved in the process: the miracle of the vowels (part of a song mentioned by Etienne Robial, above) says it all: "Je la nomme et dès lors, miracle des voyelles, il semble que la mort soit la soeur de l'amour." (My translation: I name it right now, the miracle of the vowels, it seems that "la mort" - death - is "amour"'s - love's - sister.)

1., 2. cover and back cover (Carol, detail) of 30/40 # 19, Baudoin (Futuropolis, April, 1990);
3. Un rubis sur les lèvres' third page (Futuropolis, 1985).

PS The Hal Foster quote above is in The Comics Journal # 102, September 1985: 72.

PPS The above cited song is Ne chantez pas la Mort! (don't sing death!; music by Leo Ferré, words by Jean-Roger Caussimon, 1972).
Edmond Baudoin's site (in French):

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