Showing posts with label France. Show all posts
Showing posts with label France. Show all posts

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Tamba, Child Soldier

by RM Rhodes

One of the appeals of the French comics industry is the sheer variety of genres that are available on offer. English-speaking comics publishers like NBM have been translating comics originally printed in French for decades for exactly this reason. For its part, the English-speaking audience has responded well what the French call Reportage - comics based on real events that straddle the line between non and fiction. Books like Tamba, Child Soldier by Marion Achard and Yann Degruel.

The creators deliberately chose to not identify a single nation in this book because the practice of using children as soldiers is so widespread that people could identify it pretty much everywhere. To that end, the story's visuals rely on the cultural similarities across the continent, presenting an anonymized landscape filled with generic people for the main characters to wander through. This is a good thing.

The story that the main characters tell is horrific - the book's title lets you know exactly what you're going to get. The art does a great job servicing a harrowing story, which starts with the main character telling his story to a tribunal of some kind. It's easy to tell the flashbacks from the interrogation because the flashbacks use a full color palate, while the interrogation panels have a muted, monochrome color.

Given the weight of the subject matter, having such clear, non-challenging art that communicates scene transitions so subtlety really allows the experience of the main characters take center stage and just exist. The life of a child soldier is heavy enough that it needs no extraneous embellishment, which might have been a temptation in more commercial-minded hands. Fortunately, the French language comics industry is robust enough that not everything has to meet a hypothetical set of arbitrary requirements merely to be considered by the marketplace.

Both the writer and artist are white, which is interesting because they managed to produce a book with almost no white characters. In fact, the only white people in the entire story are silent, unnamed Non-Government Organization (NGO) workers, who are referenced as the bellwether for how dangerous things really are. They show up on half a page near the end of the book, barely have faces and, if you blink, you might miss them.

Marion Achard was a circus performer and wrote several novels before writing this graphic novel. Yann Degruel, the artist, is well known for his children's books, which makes him an interesting choice to illustrate a book about child soldiers.

If you have a deep and abiding interest in the issue of child soldiers, this is absolutely the book for you. There are a trio of short essays in the back of the book about the topic, with URLs for sites that will give you more information. If you are even marginally interested in the issue, this book will absolutely convince you it should be addressed.

Tamba, Child Soldier by Marion Achard and Yann Degruel will be published by NBM in December 2019.


ComicsDC received a free review copy of this book from NBM.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Inside Moebius Part 1

by RM Rhodes

There is a vast gulf between the way English speaking audiences and French speaking audiences regard the comics artist Moebius. English speaking audiences know him primarily as “that Heavy Metal guy” who produced a number of visionary science fiction works and eventually drifted off to get work in Hollywood. The books that were translated into English went out of print in the 80s and are his other works are only now starting to show up in English. But there are an awful lot of single images of his floating around on Tumblr.

One of the more famous illustrations by Moebius

To French audiences, Moebius was the artist on Blueberry in the 60s who went by a different name and went on to help found one of the most influential experimental comics companies of the 70s. He drew a phenomenal amount of beautiful work in a variety of different genres. But his most commercial popular work would always be the westerns that he worked on in his youth – the work that he had spent his life rebelling against.

Details like this are important if one wants to get the most out of the recent translation of Inside Moebius, published by Dark Horse in 2018. It’s a beautiful hardback printing of what is essential an autobiographical comic from one of France’s dearly departed comics heroes. Moebius died in 2012, and these began publication in French in the early 2000s, so they are not new, just new to an English-speaking audience.
The Foreword to the first volume of Inside Moebius is written by Isabelle Giraud, his widow, and awkwardly describes the origins of this book in such a way that it would be easy to miss it. The Translator’s Notes in the back of the book provide some of the context, as well. However, what these notes fail to mention is that Inside Moebius is, first and foremost, a metafictional story. As with all metafictional stories, the more references the reader can understand, the better the story becomes.

In 1999, Moebius decided to stop smoking pot after decades of consumption. However, he was worried about a corresponding loss of creativity so he decided to produce a drawing a day for seventy days. He chose the desert as a repeating motif because Desert B sounds like désherber – the French verb for “pulling weeds” or “de-weeding.” From there, the project became known as 40 Jours Dans le Desert B or Forty Days in the Desert B.

From 40 Jours Dans le Desert B

The illustrations that Moebius did during this period are beautiful – among his best work. They show the clean, confident lines of a master who is obviously enjoying himself while he works. They were published in a limited edition collection called 40 Jours Dans le Desert B, which was the obvious title. The subtitle was la stratégie de la démence, which translates as the strategy of dementia.
As beautiful as the books were, the print run was relatively small. Copies of the book go for hundreds of dollars, but Moebius didn’t see that money.

In 2001, Moebius started making diary comics. He had experimented with the form before, in a short story called La Deviation, when he was very clearly enjoying psychedelic narcotics. This is his first extended return.

Moebius diary comics from the early 70s

Inside Moebius is, then, a follow-on to a basically unobtainable product that heavily informs what the reader is holding. The introduction makes a game attempt to provide some of the things to watch out for, but in my opinion, it shirks some of the foundational information that gives an English-language reader the ability to enjoy the depth of the book. 

Moebius diary comics from the early 2000s

For example, the story starts with Moebius struggling with a Blueberry script. Other characters of his – Arzach and Major Gruber – show up to laugh at his frustration. If you knew who any of those three characters are, congratulations for being more informed than the vast majority of Americans. A canny reader could deduce that these are fictional characters, but may not have enough contextual clues to pick up on the fact that these are existing properties and not something made up for the sake of the story. Moebius expects that you will know these things, otherwise why are you bothering to read his diary comics?

Blueberry is a character from the western comic by the same name that first brought him to public attention in the 60s and early 70s. Originally written by Jean-Michel Charlier and published episodically in Pilote magazine, Blueberry is arguably Moebius’s best known work and most commercially successful. Most of it is done under his legal name Jean Giraud. He stopped working on Blueberry in 1974 because he wanted to explore the kind of work that he was producing under the name Moebius. In effect, Blueberry is the property that he desperately wants to leave behind.

Unfortunately, we are told that an elder Moebius is struggling with the knowledge that a new Blueberry book will sell more copies than a limited edition art book like 40 Jours Dans le Desert B (although the specific title isn’t mentioned). This struggle becomes the early driver of what could charitably be described as plot.

Arzach is one of the original characters Moebius experimented with when he first started drawing comics that seemed to straddle a line between science fiction and fantasy without really caring that such a divide mattered or even existed.

Major Gruber is the main character from an early masterpiece by Moebius – Le Garage Hermétique, translated into English as The Airtight Garage. Like Inside Moebius, The Airtight Garage was composed in one to three page segments and only had a loose thematic connection holding the episodes together. This makes it difficult to summarize The Airtight Garage, but the art is fantastic. Inside Moebius shows a better degree of control, but its structure is naturally a callback to that seminal work, for those that know what to look for.

From The Airtight Garage

A younger, cockier version of Moebius, from the early 80s, shows up as well. By that point, Moebius had quit high profile jobs to go create a publishing company with his hippy artist friends, dragged into designing movies with (and without) Alejandro Jodorowsky, but had not yet drawn the Silver Surfer for Marvel, which means that he had not yet tried and failed to conquer American comics markets.

These characters mingle with the older Moebius character. They sit and chat and eat dinner together, like something out of a Fellini film. Perhaps not coincidentally, Fellini provided the introduction to the Moebius special published by Heavy Metal in 1982.

One of the most notable things about Inside Moebius is the lack of polish on the art. Moebius was well-known for working in a variety of art styles, switching back and forth between them fluently, sometimes on the same page. Fans hoping to see beautiful psychedelic illustrations are likely to be disappointed. This is Moebius enjoying the looseness of cartooning and not sweating the small stuff. In fact, if you want to learn what a master cartoonist considers to be essential lines on the page, Inside Moebius is a great textbook.

The fact that the original diaries date back to 2001 becomes obvious when Moebius comments on the events of 9/11 and has an extended conversation with Osama Bin Laden (who died a year before Moebius did). Geronimo also shows up to compare and contrast his terrorist methodologies with Bin Laden. Another character from The Airtight Garage makes an appearance as well.

Even if you have more interest in geopolitics than the antics of an old master farting around with characters you’ve never heard of before, the book contains a very entertaining take on what were, at the time, considered to be Very Serious subjects.

If you consider yourself to be a fan of Moebius, this book is an essential work that your library would be incomplete without. Part two is due out in early June. I’m very much looking forward to picking up a copy.


Why is this here? It's a long story. Mike Rhode first introduced himself to me when I first started vending at SPX. Over the years, we've talk to each other at Comic conventions around the DC area and never quite get around to sitting down for lunch. 

When I moved to Arlington two years ago, I didn't realize that Mike lived within a mile of my building. Nor did I realize that he lived next door to my girlfriend's friend from college. We also discovered, by accident that we work two buildings away from each other, because we work in adjacent organizations. The world is a very small place, sometimes. 

It really feels that way when I run into Mike at the local farmer's market. Naturally, that's when I pitch him article ideas. I'm reading the entire run of Heavy Metal in public (in blog format) because I happen to own the entire run of Heavy Metal. This means that I'm engaged in an ongoing study of the magazine. In addition, I have a diverse and idiosyncratic reading list that tends towards the weird corners of comics history. Sometimes one circumstance or another results in long articles that I don't really have anyplace to put. Mike has been gracious enough to let me publish them here.

In summary: this is an article about comics from someone in the DC area. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Book Review: Awaiting the Collapse by Paul Kirchner

by Mike Rhode

Awaiting the Collapse: Selected Works 1974-2014 by Paul Kirchner is one of the best archival reprint projects of 2017. Unfortunately, due to it's content, both sexual and drug-related, it will not find the large American audience that Kirchner deserves.

Let's look first at the publisher's description of the book. 

After the bus and the bus 2, this third collaboration between French publishing house Tanibis and comic book artist Paul Kirchner is a collection of the artist’s works, most of them initially published in counter-culture magazines in the 1970s and the 1980s and some dating from his return to comics in the 2010s. 

Roughly a third of the stories star Dope Rider, the pot-smoking skeleton whose psychedelic adventures take him through colorful vistas equally reminiscent of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western films and of the surrealistic paintings of René Magritte and Salvador Dalí. These stories were originally drawn for the marijuana-themed magazine High Times but were also for Kirchner an excuse to create his very own brand of visual poetry.

An other third of the book is a miscellaneous collection of comics whose stories range from the loony (the sextraterrestrial invasion of Earth in “They Came from Uranus”) to the satirical (“Critical mass of cool”) and the outright subversive (if you ever wondered what games toys play at night, read “Dolls at Midnight”).

This book also features a broad selection of the covers Kirchner made for the pornographic tabloid Screw in the 1970s.

Awaiting the Collapse finally contains a previously unpublished essay by Paul Kirchner about his career and his influences, which helps put in perspective the works published in this book.

The description which is admirably clear about the nature of Kirchner's work explains why you won't see this on anyone's best of the year list besides mine. The first reprints Dope Rider stories from the 1970s which focus on a walking skeleton attempting to acquire the best marijuana (and initially heroin). The stories are wildly surrealistic and make little sense, although Kirchner apparently did not participate in the drug culture. He also did sexualized covers for the notorious Screw newspaper, but again says in the excellent afterword that he also wasn't interested in the hedonistic adult industry world. "I too might seem an unlikely fit for Screw, having no interest in hard-core pornography... Although I drew cartoons involving leather fetishism and bondage, to me those were just subject matter, offering visual possibilities. They struck me as more humorous than erotic. So how did a sober, strait-laced fellow like me find himself drawing Screw covers and Dope Rider? I have a naughty streak that demands express, and I indulge it in my art." (p. 140)

Also Kirchner, like most of his mentors, followed the money. Kirchner says he grew up admiring Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, two of the more surreal mainstream comics artists, and then as part of a group of young Turks in New York City in the early 1970s hung around Neal Adams's Continuity Associates and worked for Wally Wood. Wood's influences are clear in the work reprinted here (apparently selected by Kirchner, and occasionally reconstructed). Kirchner also sought Steranko's advice, and one can easily see some pages influenced by that most theatrical of comic book artists. (See the panel of the Dope Rider drawing a gun on page 22 for example). The reprint quality of the artwork is stunning also, with much of it being reconstructed by his editor or recolored by Kirchner.

While I greatly admire Kirchner's craft, the best part of the book is the autobiographical essay at the end. Kirchner recounts his working career, including working in an early comic book store, ghosting Little Orphan Annie, drawing the graphic novel Murder by Remote Control for the Dutch mystery writer Janwillem van de Wetering, working for the New York Times, and collecting and firing guns with Wally Wood and the African-American cartoonist Wayne Howard. Kirchner admits to being a slow artist, and eventually had to go to work in advertising to support his family, but recently he's returned to comics although he's now in his 60s. The book includes some of his newer material as does the bus 2, and although Kirchner says his skills were rusty, his recent work compares well to his earlier art. He's doing a new comic strip, and closes his essay on a high note, writing, "When you do commercial work, as I  did for 30 years, it pays well but means nothing.  ... Instead of anxiously waiting for the next assignment, I am how happily working on the next idea. To do creative work is good for the soul. As long as you have an enthusiasm, you have happiness." (p. 151)

While this book obviously isn't for everyone, serious comics readers, especially those interested in the underground, should acquire and read it

AWAITING THE COLLAPSE: Selected works 1974-2014
by Paul Kirchner
Tanibis Editions
ISBN: 9782848410449
Format : 9,4 x 12,2"
152 pages in full color

Tanabis kindly provided me with a review copy of the physical book.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

An SPX Interview with French Cartoonist Alex Alice

Alex Alice at Takoma Public Library, photo by Bruce Guthrie

by Mike Rhode

I was walking around at SPX when ace photographer Bruce Guthrie introduced me to a French cartoonist he had met previously at the Takoma Park Library. I wasn’t familiar with Alex Alice’s work, but I was quickly impressed by his new book and asked if we could do an interview.

Amazon says, “Alex Alice is a French graphic novelist, working in France and sometimes the U.S. His works have been translated into more than fifteen languages. Born in 1974, he grew up in the south of France and had the chance to travel around Europe, where he developed a lifelong passion for the ruins and castles of the medieval and romantic ages. This experience influenced his art, from the grim setting of his esoteric thriller The Third Testament (co-written with Xavier Dorison and published by Titan Comics) to the primeval, mythic world found in Siegfried, an operatic re-telling of the northern saga of the great dragon slayer (published by Boom Entertainment). In Castle in the Stars, he draws on Jules Verne and nineteenth-century romanticism to create a watercolor world of adventure and wonder to enchant adults and younger readers alike.

Alice’s new series is described as “In search of the mysterious element known as aether, Claire Dulac flew her hot air balloon toward the edge of our stratosphere—and never returned. Her husband, genius engineer Archibald Dulac, is certain that she is forever lost. Her son, Seraphin, still holds out hope. One year after her disappearance, Seraphin and his father are delivered a tantalizing clue: a letter from an unknown sender who claims to have Claire’s lost logbook. The letter summons them to a Bavarian castle, where an ambitious young king dreams of flying the skies in a ship powered by aether. But within the castle walls, danger lurks—there are those who would stop at nothing to conquer the stars.”

Mike Rhode: [After two other series, now] you are the author of Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869. How many books are there in the series? Four?

Alex Alice: Probably more than that. This first story concludes in book 2. The universe of the story is so interesting to me that I keep having new ideas. The idea is that there is space travel in the nineteenth century, so I ask, ‘What if we had come up with a way to travel through space in 1869 instead of 1969?” and this opens up a whole world of adventure and possibilities. Space isn’t the way we know it today; it’s the way scientists imagined it at the time.

MR: Are you more influenced by 19th century authors such as Jules Verne or by 21st century steam punk? Or both?

AA: I would say I’m a fundamentalist steam punk writer so I go back to the roots. It’s Jules Verne and actual scientific hypotheses of this particular time period. It’s hard core steam punk, or hard steam punk, or… I’m trying to be as science-based as I can, perfectly realizing that this is a fantasy. I’m trying to be as close as I can to what people of the 19th century would have found believable.

MR: It’s Newtonian physics, instead of Einsteinian physics, and you can propel yourself through the space because there’s something to push against?

AA: Yes, and use as fuel.

MR: How many books in the series are out already?

AA: Book three just came out. My publisher in France is a fairly new publishing house Rue de Sèvres, which is an imprint of L'École des loisirs. They are a very respectable children’s book publisher that started a graphic novel imprint. This is very exciting for me because this is not a book for kids, it is a book that is also for kids, and I’m very glad to work with this publisher who has an ability to reach a younger audience.

MR: The same is true for your American publisher First Second…

AA: Is it? I was hopeful for that, because that’s what they told me [laughing].

MR: Let’s talk about technique… you occasionally build models for some of the spaceships?

AA: Yes, again, in the idea to have something as believable as I can. I was fascinated by this idea setting the story in a world where it’s not just alternate history, it’s an alternate cosmos. It’s not consistent with what we know about space and science now. My challenge was to say, “This is not believable for modern audiences so how am I going to pull the reader into my story?” My idea was that I didn’t care if it wasn’t true, [rather] it was something people could have believed at some point. 

The important thing for me is as I’m writing it, I believe it. I am not a scientist, and I’m perfectly aware that aether doesn’t exist. I believe in my story as I’m writing it, and it’s easy for me; to be perfectly honest, the vision of Venus that people had at the time … we could see from the telescope that it was covered in clouds, which is true; we could see it was closer to the sun so it must have been very hot ,which is true; so they thought, it’s hot, it’s cloudy, there must be a lot of water so there must be huge jungles down there. Because they thought that planets had appeared in the order of their distance from the sun, they thought Venus was younger than earth so life must not have reached the same development and be stuck in an earlier era. So they genuinely thought Venus was a jungle world filled with dinosaurs, and this sounds like a pulpy sci-fi world of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but it is the actual science hypothesis of the time. This is fascinating to me, and very poetic. I find this hypothesis easier to envision, and too imagine, and frankly easier to believe in than the actual reality of Venus which is a hell world with incredible pressure and acid rains [laughs]. 

I found it was quite easy to believe in this world as I was writing it. To help me believe in it, I had a model made of the main machine that will allow the characters to travel to the stars. I even had an aether suits made life-sized of leather and wood. I had to talk with model makers and costume makers, and having their input of how they would do it and what would work. This world is 100% believable for me and I’m comfortable writing this story.

MR: How has the reception been for it in France?

AA: I was very happy with it. I was hoping to make a book that would appeal to adults and children alike, in the tradition of Tintin, that was marketed as for ‘children between 7 and 77.’ That was a  catchline for Tintin in France. That was my goal and I was very happy to see families to come signings, and say, “This is the only bandes dessinee that I read, that my children read as well.” And vice-versa.
MR: So what brings you to the Washington area?

AA: My American publisher, First Second, thought it would be great for me to come to SPX which I’ve never been to before. I’m much more comfortable here than I was when I visited Comic-Con in New York a number of years ago. First of all, I’m not a huge superhero fan, and secondly, it was strange for me to talk to artists who work on someone else’s character which is not at all in the French tradition. Whereas here, I feel like everyone is doing their own story, and I find much more common ground, even if their stories or their visual styles are completely different from mine. I feel I have maybe something in common with a lot of the artists here.

MR: So how do you do your art? Is it drawn in pencil, and then inked, and then water-colored? Or digitally colored?

AA: It’s all done in the real world. I try to do everything on the same page – the pencilling, the letters, the color… because I really like to have the original artwork in front of me, looking as it will in the final page.

MR: Ah, a classicist.

AA: Yes, part of it is the pleasure of having the actual page in front of me; part of it is laziness [laughs] because I like to be able to judge the exact amount of details I will have to put in.

MR: That makes perfect sense to me. There’s a political cartoonist here at SPX named Matt Wuerker who still watercolors his cartoons every day by hand because it’s faster. And he knows what he’s getting.

AA: And it’s faster. People don’t realize that. The computer will not save you time. For most things…

MR: So it was watercolors that you use, and not colored pencil?

AA: It is actually at little watercolor and a lot of calligraphy’s colored inks that are permanent.

MR: You water those down a little bit to get the wash effect?

AA: Yes.

MR: Did you pitch the book to your publisher, and then get an advance to do it?

AA: Yes.

MR: Because traditionally in France in the golden days, and I think this is mostly gone now, but Tintin would be one page per week in the newspaper, and then be collected in an album.

AA: Right, and the artist would have a salary. The salary is entirely gone, but we do get an advance in France, when you sign with a major publisher.

MR: You have the complete original art at the end of a book. Do you sell it? Is that another revenue stream for you?

AA: Potentially yes. [laughs] But I haven’t sold pages in a while especially because I wanted to set up an exhibition, which we did at Angouleme which is the biggest festival in the south of France. This year at Angouleme we had the means to do a big show, with even more props and models and sounds and a moon and a lot of costumes of the time period… we made the world pop out of the page. I wanted to keep my art for that. I will be doing a commercial show in New York next year.

MR: You mentioned ‘the world’… I just bought your book and I haven’t read it yet. Is this book about going to Venus?

AA: In book one, Seraphin is talking about Venus in the beginning, but the story is actually him and his father trying to follow the footsteps of his mother who disappears in the first scene in a balloon flight. Her logbook is found by someone who sends a letter to Seraphin and his father and gives them a rendezvous in Bavaria. We don’t know who this character is, or what he wants, but when they get there, we find out that it is the King of Bavaria, King Ludwig II, and he is planning on space exploration.

MR: Is he still building a big castle?

AA: Actually, it is only the historical approximation that I made consciously. I might have made several mistakes, but he has already built his Neuschwanstein castle at this point, because I really wanted to draw this castle and I wanted to set the story just before the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

MR: So you are using real historical characters and following real historical events?

AA: I am. I made a point of having the story begin the real world as much as I could.

MR: Where are you finding your background information from? In America we had Popular Science, and Popular Mechanix and even Scientific American. Are you using the French equivalent of those?

AA: Yes, I guess. I’m especially using Camille Flammarion who wrote a popular astronomy in the latter half of the 18th century. It was very popular at the time, and these sort of popular science texts were quite an influence.

MR: In America they have a lot of magazine covers of the giant airplanes, and the future was going to be great…

AA: Or terrifying, depending on the cover.

MR: Looking at the cover of your book, are you influenced by Miyazaki?

AA: The answer is definitely yes, but my primary influences are the reading of Jules Verne and the travels I did through Europe as a kid. There’s a lot of things here that I’m using that Miyazaki was also using. That being said, I adore Miyazaki’s work, and his influence with this type of story is impossible to escape so I embraced it. The title of the book, and one of my characters, are influenced by a Miyazaki character from Future Boy Conan. There’s also a wonderful film that’s maybe lesser-known called The Castle of Cagliostro. It’s a masterpiece. It’s one of the best adventure films ever made. It’s incredibly fun, and touching, and full of wonder... one of the greatest. One of the scenes from Castle in the Stars that I was really happy with, where I had a wonderful idea and did the scene and did the book, and the book was printed, and I showed Castle of Cagliostro to my son and realized I had stolen the whole scene! [laughs] As it happens.

MR: Are you going anywhere else in the States?

AA: Yes, it’s a short but intense tour with the Brooklyn Book Festival tomorrow and then the Boston area for libraries and schools.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

An SPX Chat with French Cartoonist Anais Depommier

by Mike Rhode

Anais Depommier is a young woman illustrator who has just had Sartre, her first graphic novel (really a graphic biography) come out in English from NBM Publsihing. She attended the 2017 Small Press Expo and I got the opportunity to interview her there.

Her NBM biography is charmingly translated rather literally (and a little outdated as you'll see later in the interview): Anaïs Depommier was born in the late 1980s in a small village in the Southeast of France. Growing up a close friend of Mathilde Ramadier, they can't do enough sleepovers from one's house to the other. Inseparable at school, they spend their weekends building huts in the bush, watching the gendarmes go by, playing "Mouse Stampede" on a Macintosh Classic, and reading many comics. When it becomes time to prepare for the entrance exam to art school, they meet later in the evenings at the painter Jean-Michel Pétrissans' workshop in Valence.

Anaïs studied drawing for four years, then co-created the OneShot workshop where regular life drawing classes and other exhibitions are held. She now lives in Paris and works in comics, graphics and animation design. 

For those not familiar with the French philospher Sartre, NBM's blurb for the book reads: For some he was the philosopher of existentialism, for others the constant provocateur, the politically engaged author, the uncertain militant, the repenting bourgeois, the life companion of Simone de Beauvoir… From his first readings in the Luxembourg Garden to his refusal of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Jean-Paul Sartre was all of this at the same time.

Mike Rhode: So SPX is your first American show... is it a little overwhelming?

Anais Depommier: Absolutely.

MR: And Sartre is your first book in English?

AD: Yes, and also my first graphic novel. And also for the writer Mathilde Ramadier, actually. It was our first book.

MR: Did you propose the book together to the publisher?

AD: We've known each other for a long time, so we created the project together and then asked some editors [if they would be interested in it].

MR: Biographical comics are fairy popular in France?

AD: Yes, that is true.

MR: You didn't serialize this in a newspaper first; this is an original graphic novel.

AD: Absolutely, we started everything through a contract with our French editor. Dargaud is our publisher; it's one of the main and oldest ones in France.

MR: Did you have the book already put together, or was it just a proposal when you approached them?

AD: It was just a proposal. Works like this in France are usually [done this way now].

MR: So they gave you an advance?

AD: Absolutely.

MR: Moving on from the business side to the subject, so why did you pick Sartre?

AD: At the beginning, it was the writer's idea. She got her masters degree in philosophy, writing about Sartre, and she's passionate about comics (like I am). She thought it would be a good idea to depict him in comics, so she asked the artist that she knew - me - and I totally agreed with her. We started like this.

MR: Did she give you a script that you then broke down?

AD: Absolutely. In the beginning, she explained to me in conversation what she wanted to say about him, and then she wrote all the script. I made my own layout. She didn't really criticize the scenes - I decided the layout myself.

MR: Right, so she didn't give you thumbnails or sketches?

AD: That's true.

MR: This is a fairly substantial book... how long did it take you?

AD: Oh, a little time. Two and a half years, more or less. 135 drawn pages, and [an appendix] at the end to explain who is who in the book, for 160 pages in total.

MR: Did you have a hard time illustrating any action in a philosopher's life? I saw in the early pages that he was a rough-and-tumble school boy.

AD: Absolutely. It was kind of fun actually to draw that part. [laughs] It was interesting to show this man not just as an intellectual philosopher, a serious guy, because he had a lot of humor. I liked the pages where there was more action, and all his travels, all the trips he made. It was interesting to read the documentation and get the atmosphere.

MR: Did you work from photo references?

AD: A lot. And also from videos. We still have some interview videos of him. He died in 1980. In his last fifteen years, he was not that active outside his house. He was really sick.

MR: Who is the audience for this in France? Is this an all-ages book in France?
AD: Yes, and that's interesting. In festivals, we meet a lot of professors who don't really read comics, but they are curious about it, so that's great for us. Also, the opposite - comics lovers who know Sartre by name but don't know his books and they buy our book because they are curious.

MR: Were you influenced by any of the other biographies that came out? Anne Simon was here last year [at the Alliance Francais] to talk about her books that had been published in English.

AD: Yes, Einstein and Freud... I met her because we have the same French publisher. I think her first book, Freud, was published during the time we were doing the first pages of our book. So she's not really an influence because she has a totally different point of view. I really like her work - it's totally another thing, another approach.

MR: So what's next?

AD: Right now, I'm just starting to work on another story. It's still really, really beginning. It's fiction, and kind of dark.

MR: Your own characters?

AD: Yes. I will work with another writer, an Italian one, and we'll see how it goes.

MR: Is this your first time in America?

AD: Yes it is, and it's really exciting.

MR: Where are you going next?

AD: Before I was in Baltimore at MICA and I met some students, and it was really interesting. Tomorrow I will be at the Brooklyn Book Festival, and then next week I will be in Miami in an art school and then a book store.* The counrty is really different already even between Bethesda and Baltimore so I cannot imagine New York and Miami.

MR: I'm sorry you don't have the time to see Washington while you're here since it was influenced by Paris. Any thoughts about the Small Press Expo? Have you been able to walk around?

AD: Just a little bit this morning, and I will go again now. It seems to have really cool work; so many different comics and illustratioins. It's full of variety and I love it. It's a little underground and I really like that.

SPX floor by Bruce Guthrie
MR: SPX isn't a normal American superhero convention. In France, do you usually attend Angouleme or other festivals?

AD: I've been there twice, but always just to visit. It's a huge festival, and editors send their author with a new book, but Sartre was published in March, and the festival is in January, so it didn't match. Still, it's a crazy festival and a really interesting place to go.

MR: Have you done other French shows then?

AD: Yes, in France - a lot. In Paris, a lot, in Lyon, a lot and so many in little cities.

MR: Do you see a difference about a show in France and one in America?

AD: Here in America everything is bigger. Also the buildings too. It's impressive. I can find the same family atmosphere, a relaxed and fun atmosphere is a common point, for sure.

MR: I should ask you about your background before we end...

AD: What I did before my book? I was in university, in École Émile Cohl, a traditional school with an academic program, and I studied comics and illustration there. After that, I created a studio with friends, and did exhibitions and drawing classes, still in Lyon. Then I went to Paris and I started this book. I've made a lot of little works for newspapers, and been a graphic designer for lawyers,. This book took me so much time. I'm also doing work in Lyon Capitale, a French newspaper that has several pages a month about the history of the city. It's not really serious. There's always a historical background, but the story can be fictional. I'm still working for newspapers as a graphic designer, and I'm starting a new book, but I've also moved to Rome. I don't live in France anymore.

MR: Why Rome?

AD: It's a personal choice, not a business choice. It's a gorgeous city and I really love the Italian south.
The drawing she did in my book

*If you're in Florida tomorrow:
 Anais Depommier Book Signing
Books & Books / September 20 at 8PM
265 Aragon Ave Coral Gables, FL

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The real history behind the look of "Wonder Woman"s Dr. Poison

by Mike Rhode

The new Wonder Woman movie has a long-standing villain named Dr. Poison who is developing a super poison gas to reverse Germany's imminent loss of the Great War. Elena Anaya's character is shown with a porcelain mask over the lower quadrant of the left side of her face.

This mask actually has a background in the medical history of World War I. Plastic surgery was still in developmental stages, and for some soldiers who were too badly injured, Anna Coleman Ladd of the American Red Cross in Paris, as did sculptor Derwent Wood in a London hospital, made masks of enameled-metal. The masks were painted to match skin color.

Very few of these masks were made. The soldiers receiving them had horrific wounds from shells or shrapnel (as seen in the pictures that follow), and were often lacking bone or soft tissue to be reconstructed, often including their noses or eyes. Dr. Poison's mask drops off late in the film, and she's revealed to have a gaping wound in her cheek, which in real life, probably would have been leaking saliva and making it difficult for her to eat or enunciate clearly. I have no idea how she received the initial wound since she should have been a research scientist far from the front, but the movie shows her enjoying her work too much, so perhaps she went in person to see the use of mustard gas at the front.

Online for the first time is the 1919 report "United States Naval Medical Bulletin Special Number:Report On The Medical And Surgical Developments Of The War" by William Seaman Bainridge, Lieutenant Commander, Medical Corps, United States Naval Reserve Force courtesy of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery's Historian's Office. The following pages are from the report and give some idea of the process:

Driver F

Trooper E

"Red Cross Work on Mutilés at Paris, 1918" a short film from the National Museum of Health and Medicine can be seen via the Medical Heritage Library and shows Ladd and her Parisian studio. The National Library of Medicine has written about the film here and here.