I really enjoyed your article on the French authors.
After writing and erasing a zillion responses, I have decided to just think about it some more.
In the meantime, I’d like to chime in and also recommend that you finish Lupus. I gave up on it for a while after the first two, but I eventually broke down and I really enjoyed it as a whole in the end.
Did you like La Volupte at all? It doesn’t seem like Blutch is really interested in writing straight narratives, unless they are short humor pieces. Is a straight narrative what you think is necessary to creating important works?
I agree with you about some of the other authors mentioned (Baudoin for sure), but what do you want from Blutch and Blain? What subject matter would you have them approach if you had your druthers?
Your article deserves a much more coherent reply, and I don’t really think you are that off-base, but I’m having a lot of trouble condensing my thoughts into this email. Sorry!
Thanks for your email. I think I will definitely finish Lupus now! No, I don’t think straight narrative is in any way necessary to creating important comics works. Mitchum is as close to an important work I think Blutch has ever gotten, for example (I haven’t read La Volupté yet, so I hesitate to pronounce upon its qualities). And no, I don’t know what he or Blain should do instead of what they’re doing: as I said, I don’t think there is anything wrong as such with their choice of subject matter or the like, I just find their treatment of it unambitious and of little consequence (however, as mentioned, I do think Blain has benefited from good scripts by others in the past).
This brings me to another issue, raised on this blog by a number of posters: the problematic notion of “profundity”, its frequent confusion with “serious” or “literary” subject matter, and the idea of “superficial profundity”, of the deeper qualities of the work being present in its surface qualities. The initial poster, whose name I can’t find, takes issue with my singling out of Baudoin as someone whose aesthetic transcends self-indulgence. To illustrate his point, he reproduces a recent short story and demonstrates how Baudoin overplays his cards by applying patronizing exposition to his already rather contrived narrative. I agree with this and hasten to repeat that I was referring to Baudoin’s earlier work. Granted, even his best work can be criticised along these lines, but I think it is mitigated by his interest in conveying real emotion, or the feeling of being somewhere – in a forest, or looking out over the sea. Blain and Blutch, on the contrary, seem mostly interested in having spiffy cowboys and exotic beauties unfurling through their line. Their drawing, though highly accomplished, lacks nerve and sense of exploration beyond its obvious superficial elegance and charm.
As I’ve already emphasized, I definitely believe that “surface qualities”, if you want to call it that, can carry a work. It’s not a question of “literary content” or conceptual profundity – those only go so far and are by no means a guarantee of quality. Great drawing can make a great comic – Franquin’s Gaston, which is often rather pedestrian in its gag-writing, is a good example, much of Kurtzman & Cos. Mad, with its at times rather laboured and dated writing, is another. All I’m saying is that great drawing is more than putting swerve into your line – that it involves more than obsessing over its own perfection.
Here’s a chronological rundown of the entirety of the debate: 1. my initial essay 2. Xavier Guilbert’s and my initial back and forth 3. Alex Holden and Con C De Artes criticism and my reply 4. Guilbert’s second response, and my second, clearer version of the argument. 5. More from Alex Holden and the Con C de Arte crowd, and my response. 6. Link to Bart Beaty’s commentary. 7. Con C de Arte’s closing commentary. Here’s the discussion on BulleDair and here’s the initial one on Con C De Arte, while the second one is here, and the third here. Last, but not least, there’s Bart Beaty’s review of Blain’s Gus, in which he also comments on the discussion. Image from Frederik Peeters’ Lupus vol. 3 (2005).