Two graphic novels about Paris reviewed: 750 Years in Paris and The Spectators

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Two new(ish) graphic novels from Nobrow, Vincent Mahé’s 750 Years in Paris and Victor Hussenot’s The Spectators, showcase Paris as an enduring site of progression, turbulence, and renewal, both in culture and consciousness. Mahé’s 750 Years in Paris is a time-machine, putting its viewer in a stationary position to observe the dramatic changes in one building—and French society and culture—over the course of nearly a millennium. Hussenot’s The Spectators is a dream-machine, shuttling its characters through different skins, faces, and eyes. The titular spectators transcend not only time and space, but mind. Both books attest to the power of transformation while subtly noting the various forces that shape identity.

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Vincent Mahé’s 750 Years in Paris begins in 1265 and moves its viewer through time to 2015. The book takes us through the Black Death Plague and the 100 Years War, the reigns of Louis XIV and IV, the storming of the Bastille and the Reign of Terror, Napoleon and Hausmann, a grand Metro and a terrible Flood. The second shot in this chronology shows us a Knights Templar procession in 1270. The crusaders remind us that Western history is inextricably bound in violence, religion, and territorial expansion—but also in the exchange of ideas, information, and knowledge. We get to May 1968 with a strong visual context for France’s history of intellectual turbulence.

IMG_0613The book ends in 2015; I’ll let Mahé’s image speak for itself:
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750 Years in Paris shows us that Paris not only survives drastic change, but progresses in the face of violence. When we see, for example, that a winch has been used to hang a Protestant during the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572—

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—it’s worth noting that on the next page, neighbors help each other during a terrible fire. The winch remains in the picture, a visual motif of progress, of building up.IMG_0617

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Like every Nobrow title I’ve read, Victor Hussenot’s The Spectators is better experienced than described. Its aesthetic is its narrative and its narrative is its aesthetic, flowing from a lovely dream-logic of identity shifts. Who shall I be today?, the book asks.

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The titular spectators try on different skins, wear different hats, look through different eyes. Paris’s metro becomes a labyrinth dream-lab, where the spectators create the world anew by synthesizing known with unknown:IMG_0609

This vision of synthesis carries the narrative through a poetic examination of individuality and society. How much of me is me? Hussenot frames his characters in the geometry of picture puzzles, only to blur the borders that would constrain them.

It’s possible to imagine the spectators of Hussenot’s book gazing on Mahé’s ever-changing Paris building. Or, conversely, we can take Mahé’s building as one of Hussenot’s spectators—another shapeshifter in a city of shapeshifters.

I’ll close with an image from The Spectators that points towards a dream of synthesis, of infinite perspective, of unity. We have here not just a dream, but a vision of progress:

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Bad Luck (George Herriman’s Krazy Kat)

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Desperate Man (Glen Baxter)

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Paul Kirchner’s The Bus…and The Bus 2 (Books acquired, 10.03.2015)

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Paul Kirchner’s The Bus is excellent. We know this, yes? Editions Tanibis sent me their copy of the surreal, philosophical strip’s first run. I’ve enjoyed going back through it again (bingeing, to be honest)—Tanibis’s volume is beautiful, crisp, and far more complete than the Imgur album that was such a hit this year.
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Tanibis also sent along The Bus 2, which publishes late this month, and I’ll have a full review then (some time after Halloween), but for now, a teaser:

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Warning! — Katsuhiro Otomo

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The Bus, Paul Kirchner’s marvelous and surreal comic strip trip

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For the past year, I’ve run a strip from Paul Kirchner’s cult classic The Bus each Sunday. The strips come from an album posted at Imgur full of high quality scans. I posted the last scan last week.

The Bus originally ran in Heavy Metal from 1979-1985; Kirchner’s done a few  over 40 new strips over the past few years, as he notes in a recent memoir-piece at The Boston GlobeThe new strips will be collected in The Bus 2 from Editions Tanibis. Editions Tanibis also has collected the original run of The Bus in an edition that’s more complete than the Imgur page.

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I’ve enjoyed posting the strips tremendously. I first saw a few strips at an image forum I frequent, and quickly found the Imgur album. Posting one each Sunday was my way of, well, not bingeing on them.

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The Bus is a profound strange wonderful trip. Kirchner’s visions often evoke Escher’s paradoxes, and the best of his strips make us attend closely to what we’d otherwise dismiss. The Bus is subtle and sly, occasionally (very occasionally) dark, but also, I would argue, sensitive—there’s something deeply endearing about the strip’s central human protagonist, an often passive (even hapless) passenger, a kind of late-20th century Everyman. Continue reading “The Bus, Paul Kirchner’s marvelous and surreal comic strip trip”

The Bus — Paul Kirchner

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The Bus — Paul Kirchner

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The Bus — Paul Kirchner

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Drawled the librarian (Glen Baxter)

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The Bus — Paul Kirchner

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The Bus — Paul Kirchner

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The Bus — Paul Kirchner

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The Bus — Paul Kirchner

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The Bus — Paul Kirchner

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The Bus — Paul Kirchner

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The Spectators (Beautiful book acquried 6.11.2015)

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Victor Hussenot’s The Spectators is a gorgeous new graphic novel from Nobrow. I’ve read it twice now (“read” as a verb seems inadequate but—), and will get to a proper review later this week. Excellent stuff. Nobrow’s blurb:

What if we are merely shadows, our characters defined by a simple inflection of light? The realm of possibilities opens up, because in our world we are nothing but spectators.

The Spectators unfolds as a poetic and philosophical introspection on the nature of man. Victor Hussenot‘s palette is awash with subtle colour, gently carrying the narrative and allowing the reader to envelop themselves in the lyricism of the work. Reminiscent of French New Wave cinema with its clipped dialogue, gentle pacing and departure from a classic narrative structure, The Spectators is an exciting new graphic novel.

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