2. Levi is amazed when he discovers his real ancestors in this self-referential strip;
3.Leviathan's author, Thomas Hobbes, speaks his mind;
4., 5. two The Pedestrian playful strips (The Independent on Sunday, 1999 - 2000);
6.Filling Tooth's cover (Amateur Enterprises, 2001); in the last two pages of this mini-comic Peter Blegvad plays with an afterimage; it's amazing how the afterimage phenomenon has been completely forgotten by comics creators (I can only thing of another example: two pages in Andrzej Klimowski's The Secret (Faber and Faber, 2002);
7. page from The Ganzfeld # 2 (The Kaput Press Inc., 2002);
8. the ugly "Anatomy of a [musical] "Hit"" (detail; Cartoonists on Music: The Comics Journal Special Edition, Volume Two - Summer, 2002); I especially like the "shred of decency" on the right;
9. strip from the "Sir Bold" series (Cartoonists on Patriotism: The Comics Journal Special Edition, Volume Three - Winter, 2003).
PS There are one hundred and twenty comic strips in The Book of Leviathan (if I'm not mistaken). Three hundred and seventy seven were published in The Independent on Sunday during the strip's run. Where are the remaining two hundred and fifty seven?...
Peter Blegvad is a musician who also makes comics. Or is it the other way around? Either way he's brilliant creating in whichever medium he chooses to do so. Blegvad is highly intelligent, playful, and always fun. In other words: he's pretty much the opposite of what I usually put in my canon (dead serious geniuses). In The Book of Leviathan's (Overlook Press, 2001 [The Independent on Sunday, 1992 - 1998]) inside cover's blurb, someone wrote: "Quirky and referential, dark and droll by turn, [the strip] follows the faceless baby Levi's journeys [Levi's short for the ironically dubbed Leviathan] into and out of the world. They are escapes, but as some sage once observed, only a jailer would consider the term "escapist" pejorative." She's or he's right: being one of the "jailers" I definitely want to grasp greatness. The problem (if there's one) is that The Book of Leviathan is far from being an escapist book. One needs just to read Levi's first "adventure (http://www.leviathan.co.uk/orpheus/orpheus01.htm)," an incredibly dark take on Orpheus' myth, to easily understand that. Rafi Zabor nailed Blegvad's style in the book's intro using just two words: "intelligent surrealism" (in case you didn't notice it, the expression is, in a rather Blegvadian way, an oxymoron, or so wanted the surrealists to make us believe...). A fine observer of what surrounds us, it seems to me that Peter Blegvad turns the world inside out to see its linings.In the book The Education of a Comic Artist (Michael Dooley and Steve Heller, eds., Allworth Press, School of Visual Arts, 2005), Peter Blegvad described his background (98 - 100): "My father, Erik, has illustrated more than a hundred children's books. My mother, Lenore, has written several. My education began with their examples and encouragement." He goes on to cite the artists that were represented in the family's library: Saul Steinberg, James Thurber, Maurice Sendak, Edward Gorey, Palle Nilsen, and many others....Blegvad described Leviathan, the character, as (according to this article by Mike Zwerin:http://www.iht.com/articles/1999/07/07/bleg.2.t.php): "a quizzical and querulous infant whose most distinctive feature was his lack of features. His face was a tabula rasa, symbolic of his embryonic identity. It was a sort of willfully esoteric, woozily stoned subversion of the genre of which 'Calvin and Hobbes' is perhaps the mainstream paradigm. [...] 'Leviathan' sometimes baffled readers, as it did myself. My narratives frequently failed completely. In such cases, I told myself, 'understanding is overrated.' I think I mystified and alienated a lot of people. But the English like to be mystified, as long as you do it with the right poetic spin." The Book of Leviathan's first edition was titled Book of Leviathan (Sort of Books, 2000)."The Pedestrian" (The Independent on Sunday, 1999 - 2000) was inspired by Baudelaire's and Robert Walser's concept of the Flaneur. I called "The Pedestrian" a kosuthian strip on this blog already. Speaking of which: Narrative Art (one of the branches of Conceptual Art) and this post, remind me that Jochen Gerz and Jean le Gac should also be part of my comics canon.
Images and sounds:
Slapp Happy (Peter Blegvad, Dagmar Krause, Anthony Moore): "Mr. Rainbow," "The Secret," "Slow Moon's Rose" from the album Casablanca Moon (1974); "Nine Mineral Emblems," from the progressive rock album Kew. Rhone. (1977): Peter Blegvad, John Greaves, Lisa Herman; other collaborations: Andrew Cyrille, Mike Mantler, Carla Bley, Michael Levine, Vito Rendance, April Lang, Dana Johnson, Boris Kinberg.
1. illustration for Roland de Marès' book La Belgique Envahie (Belgium invaded), George Cres & Co., 1915; as published in Frans Masereel (Kunst und Gesellschaft - art and co. -, 1990); Frans Masereel's early, more detailed, style: it was in Switzerland, where Masereel lived (1916 - 1922), that his Expressionist graphic style flourished;
2. image from "Les morts parlent," (the dead talk) as published in Holzschnitte gegen den Krieg (woodcuts against the war) Insel-Verlag, 1989 [Les Tablettes - the tablets -, 1917]); Masereel's Anti-Capitalism dully explains his Pacifism (and vice-versa); WWI was, in his view, just a squaring of accounts among Capitalists; I fully agree with him: poor people die in rich people's wars, that's all...; all other considerations are just well orchestrated lies; "Les morts parlent" is a a dance macabre, a totentanz, a dance of death;
3. the last page of Frans Masereel's most celebrated book: Mon livre d'heures (A. Kundig, 1919)... as published in Passionate Journey (Penguin Books, 1987); I fully agree with Nick Mullins on this one: "Passionate Journey is still an important work and it's a fun romp that celebrates life while thumbing it's nose at authority. However, The City gives us a broader and deeper look at the human experience.": http://www.nijomu.com/reviews.html ;
4. image from Grotesk Film as published in Grotesk Film (Nautilus, 1996 [J.B. Neumann, 1920]); a great portrait of greed;
5. image from La ville (Albert Morancé, 1925) as published in The City (Schoken Books, 1988); over the factory's main entrance (and in other parts of the city linked to entertainment) Masereel drew concentric circles denoting the spread of light, but also connoting an hypnotist's disk (only alienation prevents blue color workers from revolting against exploitation);
6.Place Pigalle in Paris (detail): painting done in 1925 (La ville's year of publication); the disks, again...;
7. an elliptical suicide as published in Von Schwarz zu Weiss (from black to white; Zweitausendeins - two thousand and one -, 1989 [Du noir au blanc, Verlag Oprecht, 1939]);
8. WWII inspired a new totentanz (in Masereel's "white style," this time): image (detail) from Dance Macabre (Büchse der Pandora - Pandora's box -, 1981 [Herbert Lang, 1941]);
9. Die Passion eines Menschen's (one man's passion) last page as published by Zweitausendeins, 1989 (Images de la passion d'un homme, self-published, 1918); if you claim for justice: they fire at you in a dictatorship, you get fired in a democracy...
1., 2.,3. two Expressionist woodcuts and an etching with aquatint; Kirchner and Dix are examples of the cultural zeitgeist that was highly influential in Frans Masereel’s work;
1. the 4th annual Die Brücke’s portfolio’s cover by ELK (Ernst Ludwig Kirchner), 1909;
2. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Frauen am Potsdamer Platz (women on Potsdamer Platz; 1914);
3. Otto Dix: Sturmtrupp Geht unter Gas vor; shock troops advancing under a gas attack; Der Krieg (the war; Nierendorf, 1924);
4. Page from Maestro, by Caran d’Ache (Emmanuel Poiré’s nom de plume) as published by the Musée de la Bande Dessinée (the comics museum) in Angoulême, 1999; Maestro is an unfinished (and unpublished) novel in pictures drawn at the end of the 19th century;
5. a curio: drawing by Balthus as published in Mitsou (Payot & Rivages, 2001 [Rotapfel-Verlag Erlenbachm, 1921]); Balthus was thirteen years old when he drew this book;
6. page from Schicksal, Eine Geschicte in Bildern by Otto Nückel as published in Destiny, a Novel in Pictures (Farrar & Rinehart, 1930 [1928?]); the novel’s main character contemplates suicide; these Neue Sachlichkeit (new objectivity) beautifully done verist leadcuts remind silent films; the fact that we rarely see the woman’s face counterbalances the sometimes excessive melodramatics of the story;
7. page from Alay-Oop by William Gropper as published in David Beronä’s Wordless Books (2008 ); in the same way as Otto Nückel, William Gropper shows lower working class women’s difficult lives;
8. three images from "Vertigo" as published in Storyteller Without Words, the Wood Engravings of Lynd Ward (Abrams, 1974 [Random House, 1937]); as we can see, words weren’t completely absent from this storyteller’s oeuvre; Lynd Ward’s art deco inspired drawings are frequently kitsch, but many of his compagnons de route, Masereel included, are also guilty of the same sin (mainly because they were left wing idealists, of course);
9. a new Masereel?, page from Eric Drooker's Flood! (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1992); Flood! isn't completely wordless because it has four pages with captions and direct speech; two other artists who could be included on this post are Peter Kuper and Chris Lanier.
As many other terms in comics the expression "wordless comics" is a misnomer (we've seen "comics" about the holocaust and "comic books" that are magazines, for instance). Words may appear in these comics as part of the drawings (as store signs, hotel signs, letters, etc...). Another possibility is "mute comics," but it's another misnomer because the characters are allowed to talk to each other. We just don't read what they're saying, as in most comics, or we read what they're saying as images or visual metaphors. "Pantomime comics" is even worst because the characters don't communicate through sign language. I could call them "iconic comics," I suppose (if the image of a written word is still a pure icon, that is), but I kind of like the word "wordless," so, "wordless" it is, misnomer and all... Another related problem is: can I call these comics, "comics?" Most people call them "picture stories" or "woodcut [or engraving, or etching] cycles." But, in the latter case, they're just describing the technique which produced the images. It's as if I called a comic: a drawing cycle. Anyway, even if I'm the only one to call many of these stories "comics" (including them in the expanded field), Frans Masereel's woodcut cycles are frequently co-opted to the comics field. The same thing happens to Otto Nückel's Schicksal, Eine Geschicte in Bildern (destiny, a story in pictures; Delphin Verlag, n. d. [in Wordless Books, Abrams, 2008, David Beronä conjectures: 1928] or Lynd Ward's oeuvre). Since I mentioned Wordless Books, the subtitle is: The Original Graphic Novels (see what I mean?).
Schiksal's original drawings were leadcut prints (István Szeguedi Szütz's My War's [John Lane, 1931] and William Gropper's Alay-Oop's [Coward-McCann, 1930] original art are drawings) but Frans Masereel and almost all the others (Lynd Ward, Helena Bochořáková-Dittrichová, Giacomo Patri, James Reid, Laurence Hyde) did their original art with woodcuts or wood engravings. I don't know if it's correct to join all these different artists, living in different countries, under one label and call them an artists' group (?). Probably not, but they were pacifists and their politics (maybe with James Reid's and Bochořáková-Dittrichová's exception) leaned to the left. Talking about Masereel, then, there are two reasons for his chosen technique. One is pratical (used with broad lines woodcut is adequate to the urgency of his drawings during WWI in Geneva's newspaper La feuille; the leaf). The other is cultural and related to Germany (even if Frans Masereel was, not Hergé, the best Belgian comics artist that ever lived): "under the influence of the paintings of Vincent van Gogh and the Fauves and the prints of Munch, and inspired by the early German workshops of Lucas Cranach I, Albrecht Dürer and others, the artists of Die Brücke ([the bridge] first in Dresden, then in Berlin) brought about the most significant revival of the woodcut as an avant-garde expressive in the 20th century. Rejecting (and rejected by) the formal academies and Secession group (Lovis Corinth, Max Liebermann, Max Slevogt and others), whose leading artists produced sumptuous and painterly etchings and lithographs during the 19th-century printmaking revival, the artists of Die Brücke set up the Neue Secession, an exhibition group, and, while also working in other printmaking media, adopted the woodcut as their most powerful means of expression. They quickly abandoned a decorative fin-de-siècle style (c. 1906), and, combining European influences with African motifs and forms known to them from the recent discoveries of European explorers and exhibits in the ethnographic collections in Dresden, they worked aggressively on the woodblocks to produce sharp angles, broad diagonals and roughly hewn, shaded patches. Each of the four leading artists of Die Brücke (Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Pechstein and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff) all created primitive nudes of haunting beauty or savagery, startling and intense portraits, and vivid and dynamic landscapes and townscapes. [...]The woodcut flourished all over Germany until World War II in an explosion of printmaking activity that included the production of numbers of fine portfolios, such as German Graphics of the Present (Leipzig, 1920) and Ganymede (Munich, 1919–25), and the inclusion of original woodcuts in literary publications, such as Der Zweemann (Hannover, 1919–26) and Genius (Leipzig, 1919–21) and Socialist political pamphlets including Revolution (Munich, 1913) and Die Aktion (Berlin, 1911–32), in which woodcut was considered as a medium worthy of proletarian political art." (Katharina Mayer Haunton, here: http://www.moma.org/collection/details.php?theme_id=10219§ion_id=T092193). The woodcut was humbler, cheaper, more democratic than oil painting.
Frans Masereel's La ville (the city; Albert Morancé, 1925) not only could fit the above formal description, it also shared Die Brücke's ambivalent view of the city. On the one hand they believed in Nietzsche's critique of modern life, on the other hand they, like the Futurists, were fascinated by its energy.
Frans Masereel's La ville is, like Hokusai's Fugako hyakkei,an example of the panoptical view that we can find in what I called: the locus. What he mostly sees though, is exploitation, alienation, poverty, sickness, despair, death, desire, drunkenness. Conversely he just puts on the other balance plate: love, poetry, and not much else... (he certainly liked cats...) Masereel's city is as black as woodcut ink. I can't say, after all these years, that I disagree with him... greed continues to be the creed...
1., 2.,3. Frans Masereel's self-portraits:
1.at twenty in Art Nouveau style: 1909;
2. 1925 (detail);
4.La feuille's front page with a politically naive cartoon by Masereel (November, 23, 1917);
5. still from Berthold Bartosch's animation film L'idée(The Idea) (1932; music by Arthur Honegger) based on various picture stories by Frans Masereel.
1. Jun and Edith (aka Reggae-Sweeky) on Aristophane's first book's cover: Logorrhée (Le Lézard, 1993 [drawn in 1988, 1989]),
2.Loghorrée's first page cites Little Nemo by Winsor McCay (even if it isn't a bad book at all Logorrhée is far from hinting at what would come next...);
3. the first episode of Aristophane's "Le vieux Samson" (old Samson; Le cheval sans tête - first series - # 3, September, 1994); a similar process happened to Aristophane's drawing style and Edmond Baudoin's: both loosened their ways using brushes only; in this story Aristophane uses washes, but they appeared too dark in Le cheval sans tête's pages...;
4. ...maybe that's why he gave up the aforementioned washes to create his distinctive black and white impressionist technique: "Le vieux Samson Crow" (the old Samson Crow; Le cheval sans tête - first series - # 5, 1995); Samson Crow's daily life stories remind Robert Crumb's musicians' bios;
5. Aristophane revisits Logorrhée in his new style already; Jun and Edith are Quiaozhen and Mouna, now: "La mauvaise odeur" (the bad smell), Bananas # 3 (Summer, 1995);
6. "At dusk the bodies dress in warm colors." / "The sun bids them good-bye in a pompous way, wishing them a good rest." / "They will greet it at dawn in a new set, in a new warmness." / "But some who are tired of greetings lay on the ground and never see the sunrise again." / "That's how old myths die.": Faune by Aristophane, Amok, 1995;
7. page from Conte démoniaque (L'Association, 1996); it's in this epic story that Jack Kirby's influence is detectable in Aristophane's oeuvre; some panels quote Kirby's famous machinery, but, here, what's being quoted is Kirby's igneous matter; the ecstatic hate, to quote one of the book's chapters ("Haine extatique"), reaches its logical conclusion: total destruction (the human form is Leviathan; Aristophane inverts the goat, Marduk, instead of inverting the pentacle);
8.Les soeurs Zabîme's frontispiece illustration and book dedication: "This modest work is dedicated to the divine / to the only one whose substance is the whole / and is in all of us. / As a sign of my devotion." (Ego comme x, 1996); Aristophane's work is one of the few in comics to seriously address religious matters;
9. page from Les soeurs Zabîme: by varying the brush strokes' thickness Aristophane got visual contrasts, defocusing effects, and chronochromatisms (cf.: last panel); the body language of his characters is always remarkable.
"I was born in 1967 in Guadaloupe and I arrived in Paris in August 1975.
It was while reading American comics [just "comics" in the original text], particularly those by Jack Kirby, that I have begun loving comics ["bande dessinée" in the original text]. Kirby is my first and indelible influence.
I attended different art schools over six years, two of which at the fine arts school in Paris where I discovered what's drawing really about and the importance of an expressive research.
A friend of mine told me a phrase by our teacher, it was roughly like this:
"Everything was already explored in painting, everything was already done. The future lies in comics."
I have, after hearing them, those words always on my mind."
That's how Aristophane (Firmin Aristophane Boulon) presented himself in the pages of Critix magazine (It wasn't a fanzine because critics are rational beings and fanatics are not), issue # 2 (Winter, 1996 - 1997, my translation). The best year in comics, ever, 1996, started with Aristophane's great Conte démoniaque (demonic tale; L'Association - the association -, January) and ended, always under Aristophane's sign, with an extended dossier about him in the aforementioned Critix # 2.
Critix (1993 - 2001), with Bruno Lecigne's Controverse (controversy; 1985 - 1986) and, more recently, Jean-Christophe Menu's L'éprouvette (the test piece; 2006 - 2007) are my canon of specialized non-academic critical magazines about comics (Barthelemy Schwartz's and Balthazar Kaplan's - two noms de plume - Dorénavant - henceforth -, 1985 - 1989 - is in a class of its own and deserves a post on The Crib). The Comics Journal (1977, ongoing) and Les cahiers de la bande dessinée (the comics notebooks; the Groensteen years, of course: 1984 - 1988) are missing links with some hits, but also with a lot of misses. Both mags do (and did, respectively) too many concessions to children's comics (the so-called mainstream) and other utterly mediocre stuff (that's, in my humble opinion, one of comics criticism's main problems: for comics critics everything is equally mature, equally ambitious, equally good; in a word, the main problem with comics criticism is: overrating). 9e art (ninth art; 1996, ongoing) isn't bad, but the institutional weight of the CNBDI (national centre of comics and images) didn't help. (Two other great comics mags were Thierry Lagarde's STP - 1976 - 1979, and Franck Aveline's L'indispensable - the indispensable -, 1998 - 1999; Bang!'s last years, around 1975 - 1977, isn't bad either.) My mag's canon inclusion above doesn't mean that Critix was totally overrating free though. Nobody's perfect...
Its a rare privilege to read a critical text by one of the best comics artists in the pantheon. That's what a body can do in Critix # 2: Fabrice Neaud reviewed Conte démoniaque (37 - 53) and he did it superbly. In the same issue Renaud Chavanne also reviewed Conte démoniaque (54 - 64) and Évariste Blanchet wrote a short note about Aristophane's Les soeurs Zabîme (65, 66). Les soeurs Zabîme (the Zabîme sisters) was published by Ego comme x (a word play meaning "ego comix") in 1996; three short stories were also published in Ego comme x magazine - # 2 - 4, 1994, 1995.) If we don't take into consideration his short stories, published in various anthologies and his first book Logorrhée (logorrhea; Le Lézard, 1993), Faune (faun; Amok, 1995 [Lapin # 2, July, 1992]) completes Aristophane's major oeuvre. A very short list, unfortunately...
In his three great books Aristophane touches the same theme: evilness is an important part of being human. Conte démoniaque is a three hundred pages epic set in hell, but all the demons' cruelty, hubris, will to power, unequivocally remind us of our own world. Faune's subtitle is self explanatory: "L'histoire d'un immoral" - an immoral one's tale. The reason why I like Les soeurs Zabîme so much is because you expect a demon and a faun to obey their own evil instincts. What's a bit unexpected, at least in comics' bowdlerized world, is to find the exact same reactions in children. The Zabîme sisters and their friends are simply some of the best characterizations in comics. The subtlety of the situations and the truthfulness of the characters' reactions are on a par with Proust's best pages.
In Aristophane's short story "La prière du voyageur à la mère universelle" (the wanderer's prayer to the universal mother; Ego comme x, # 5, 1997) the traveller begs (my translation): "Oh, divinity, purify me. turn me into a perfect man, worthy of you" / "As all answer he listened to the same eurythmic murmur: "Your goal is not human, your goal is superhuman.""
Aristophane died prematurely in 2004, he was thirty seven years old. In the doubtful assumption that he wouldn't quit comics, like so many did, and continue to do, I can only imagine what this great artist would give us in his future. Our present...
Critix # 2's cover showing Marduk, one of the demons in Aristophane's Conte démoniaque;
1. "Sumo Wrestlers" by Hayashi Moriatsu: Gasen (the painting hoop net), vol. 5, 1721, as published in Hokusai,First Manga Master by Jocelyn Bouquillard and Christophe Marquet (Abrams, 2007 [Seuil, 2007]); not only didn't Hokusai coin the word "manga," he didn't even invent the concept... he was "just" stunningly talented, that's all...;
2., 3. they may be done in a descriptive rather than narrative spirit, but comic sequences are definitely part of Hokusai's Manga:
2. vol. 10, 1819 (as published in Hokusai, First Manga Master): travelling performers: the game of the hundred grimaces and the high jump (Hokusai was obcessed by the number; he wanted to achieve, at least, one hundred years);
3. vol. 12, 1834 (ditto): Daruma, founder of the Ch'an sect, grimacing;
4.a truly narrative sequence of two images in Fugakku hyakkei (all the following images, but the last two were caught on the link below): "Fuji no yamaaki" (the opening of Fuji), "Suberi" (sliding down): Fujikō religion pilgrims slowly ascend and rapidly descent Mt. Fuji (the images as well as the image sequences must be read from right to left);
5. right: Hokusai represents the daily work of the common people ("Hizami no Fuji" - Fuji carved; soldiers preparing a meal); left: as written on the Emerald Tablet: "that which is inferior, or below, is as that which is superior or above" (translation by John Everard); Hokusai repeats the form of the Fuji in the people's bodies: here ("Sōchū no Fuji" - Fuji in a window), Kawamura Minsetsu forms the triangle with his arms while yawning;
6. two of Hokusai's favorite topics: water and work ("Shinshū Yatsugatake no Fuji" - Fuji and Yatsugatake in Shinshū); Yatsugatake is a volcanic chain of mountains; the water is lake Suwa; 7. "Kaijō no Fuji" (Fuji at sea): Hokusai returns to his famous great wave, but he inverts the reading order; now, the eye flows with the water, it doesn't confront it; plus, the visual poetry suggests the visual metaphor: bird/foam... the harmony of nature...;
Hokusai manga (abbreviated title) Vol. 1: http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/1834/manga1/index.htm ; Denshin kaishu Hokusai manga (complete title: education of beginners through the spirit of things, random sketches by Hokusai; "random sketches" is another possible translation for the word "manga"); translation found on the link below;