Gary Panter's collected Dal Tokyo is on our spring list and production on the book is proceeding apace. Here, courtesy of Raymond Sohn, who is working on the book with Gary P., is a sneak peek at the new, much much improved (from the "horrible protocover" — Gary's words — that we used for our catalogs last time) cover.
If we publish the first Pogo book, the Joost Swarte collection, and this one all within about six months of each other, then, dear readers, what will you have left to complain about in terms of superlate books from Fantagraphics by next summer?
Don't answer that; we know there's a bunch. (B. Krigstein Vol. 2, for one.) Allow us our moment of relative triumph here.
[In this installment of our series of Editors Notes, Kim Thompson interviews himself (in a format he's dubbed "AutoChat") aboutLike a Sniper Lining Up His Shotby Jacques Tardi and Jean-Patrick Manchette, now available to pre-order from us and coming soon to a comics shop near you. – Ed.]
Okay, if I already have West Coast Blues, why should I buy Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot?
My promotional tagline for Sniper is, “For those who thought West Coast Blues wasn’t violent enough.”
Seriously? West Coast Blues was pretty brutal.
Sniper mops the floor with it. It was the last novel Jean-Patrick Manchette completed before he died in 1995, and to some degree it’s an exercise in technique. He himself said this, and he also said he wanted it to feel like the Aldrich movie version of Kiss Me Deadly, I assume in terms of velocity, brutality, and the sheer amount of virtuoso set pieces. That’s a high standard (Kiss Me Deadly is one of my top five favorite movies ever), which I think he hits. It also ends with an apocalypse, albeit just inside the protagonist’s brain.
It’s also probably the most extreme example of what Manchette called his “hyperbehaviorist” style, which is a complete refusal to go inside any of the characters’ heads: It’s all purely observational. “He does this. He does that. Then this happens.” It sounds alienating, but your own conjectures as to what’s going on in every character’s head become far more interesting than anything Manchette could have written. The blankness of Tardi’s character faces adds immeasurably to it, by the way, which is one reason they’re such a good team.
What does the title mean? Why is the protagonist “like” a sniper lining up his shot, isn’t he a sniper and doesn’t he line up his shots? Isn’t that that like calling a boxing movie “like a guy about to punch another guy in the face”?
It’s the very last sentence of the novel, and the last sentence of the graphic novel. Trust me, it makes sense.
This is Tardi’s most recent book, right?
Yeah. At this point in his career Tardi is a zen master. Every panel is designed with such confidence, every line laid down with almost arrogant unfussiness… I can’t praise it enough. I know there are people who pine for the more anal, detailed, “clean” look of some of his earlier books, and it’s not an unreasonable aesthetic preference to have. But to me this is just pure cartooning. And it adds another level of dark wit to what is already a blackly funny book.
There’s a four-page scene where the protagonist, Martin Terrier, catches up with some poor patsy who’s shadowing him, tortures the information out of him, and kills him, and the sheer nonchalant professional viciousness of Terrier (as rendered in one of those inexpressive mask-like Tardi faces I just mentioned) and squirm-inducing nature of the scene topples over into funny… as I’m absolutely sure Manchette intended. If you’re reading a noir interrogation scene set in a car and the sentence “he pushed in the cigarette lighter” comes up, your “Oh, NO…!” reaction is supposed to be overlaid with a nervous giggle.
Sounds like the infamous “fingers” interrogation scene in Man on Fire.
I would not be at all surprised to learn that Brian Helgeland, who wrote Man on Fire — one of the more satisfyingly uncompromising revenge thrillers of the past 20 years — had read the original novel, which is available in English (under the title The Prone Gunman). Am I the only one who found that scene in Man on Fire funny too?
Blecchh. Maybe you and Quentin Tarantino. I hope to God so, or I despair for humanity. Let’s end with a double-barreled “what’s next?” question, namely what’s the next Tardi book you’re doing and will there be any more Manchette/Tardi books?
The next Tardi book we’re committed to is the second Adèle Blanc-Sec book (collecting the third and fourth French volume), and while my current plan is to follow that with the “expanded” Roach Killer (i.e. with three or four short stories also set in New York added to it, including “Manhattan” from RAW Vol. 1, titled New York Mon Amour), this may change. As for Manchette/Tardi, there is of course Griffu which we serialized in Pictopia and could throw out there as a graphic novel some season when I’m feeling lazy and not up to adding a translation to my schedule, but I think we'll be able to make another Manchette/Tardi-related announcement soon.
One more thing: Those who would like to read an actual Manchette novel should be advised that New York Review Books just recently released an English-language edition of Manchette’s Fatale, which is a nifty hitwoman thriller. (Tardi started an adaptation of it back in the 1970s and abandoned it.) Go here to order it on Amazon.com.
I would also add that Manchette’s prose is the most fun to translate. I’m not saying it’s the best (nor am I saying it’s NOT the best) in terms of quality, I’m saying it’s just a blast. When I’m working on a Manchette book I can barely wait to finish dinner to run down and knock out a few more Manchette pages. Translation is sort of like literary karaoke and “singing” in Manchette’s voice is pure joy, even when the protagonist is ripping someone’s ear off for no good reason. Maybe especially when the protagonist is ripping someone’s ear off for no good reason. In fact I’m sad I’m done with this one.
One more thing, if you love cats… uh, never mind. There are a lot of cat lovers out there and I’ll just let them have their own little surprise.
[In this installment of our series of Editors Notes, Kim Thompson interviews himself (in a format he's dubbed "AutoChat") aboutSibyl-Anne Vs. Ratticusby R. Macherot, now available to pre-order from us and coming soon to a comics shop near you. This edition is so epic, we've split it into two parts — here's Part 1 from yesterday! – Ed.]
Okay, so yesterday you summed up all of Macherot’s career pre-Sibylline. He spent a decade at Tintin magazine, was lured to Spirou, his first Spirou series tanked — look, I did it in 16 words instead of thirteen hundred…
Yeah, yeah. You’ll thank me later. Anyway, Sibylline didn’t start off auspiciously. The first two episodes were oddly violent housebound Tom-and-Jerry style riffs with a cat tormenting the mice. The third was both more Chlorophylle-esque and more promising: Macherot relocated the main mouse characters to the country and did a nice little riff on protecting a sparrow from some malevolent crows. But with the fourth — which comprises the first 20 pages of this book – Macherot suddenly found his groove. He surrounded his two main mice with a supporting cast and little country village, he introduced an ongoing villain, and for the next 120 pages he was as much on his game as any cartoonist has ever been.
“For the next 120 pages”? That implies…
Yeah, I’ll be getting to that. Anyway, the four stories that comprise the two albums (of which Sibyl-Anne vs. Ratticus is the first) are I think his absolute top, even edging out Chaminou.
So why do you like them so much?
First, and most obviously, there is the art: It’s just flawless. Second, I think in these books his delineation of character is great — better even than Hergé’s. In pretty much every comic at the time, the protagonist was boring and colorless, supported by one or more “wacky” sidekicks. As he had done with Chaminou, Macherot stood this on his head by packing Sibylline with character traits, not all of them pleasant: She is frankly a bit of a bitch…
Or a “shrew”…
Exactly — she pushes her poor “fiancé” around like the lump that he is, she’s egocentric and boastful, and she has a hair-trigger temper and is easily offended. But she’s also fiercely loyal and courageous, and downright adorable. One cannot overstate how radical (and a female, too! very rare for European kids’ comics at that time) this characterization was. And the other members of her little group are sharply drawn too: The cowardly, cunning and mercantile crow Floozemaker, the good-hearted but slightly thick porcupine Verboten, and in his own way, the peevish but eternally “Yes-dear”ing Boomer. Add in the fiendish but ironically aware of his own limitations Ratticus, and the odd supporting characters like the irked fireflies, and it’s this fantastic dynamic that Macherot, who was a terrific comedy writer — look at the scene where the rabbit is trying to climb a tree and the captured rats take malicious glee in psyching him into repeatedly falling out of the tree, or Sibyl-Anne’s periodic eruptions of anger against Floozemaker (including when he’s shrewdly negotiating hostages at the end) — was able to use to his best advantage. Add in a carefully structured, sprawling animal war plot and the whole “Ratticus” cycle is just a gem.
Before we continue, why did you change the character’s name? Especially such a piddling change.
Macherot (who was a genius at names too) clearly picked the name “Sibylline” because in French all the vowel sounds in it are sharp “ee” sounds, like a mouse squeaking: See-bee-leene. In English they aren’t, and I have this perhaps weird prejudice against using names where the pronunciation is open to debate: I could see English language readers being confused as to whether to rhyme the name with “clean” or with “fine,” or even trying for the French pronunciation, like Americans who insist on saying “Tangtang” for Tintin and "Ah-stay-REEX" for Asterix, which grates on me. “Sibyl-Anne” is virtually identical, but with zero pronunciation latitude. As a bonus it’s perfectly Googlable with just a few random real “Sibyl Anne” facebook pages cluttering up the hits, it has a nice rural flair to it, and besides, “Anne” is my wife’s middle name.
I also changed the rat’s name from “Anathème” which just didn’t seem villainous in English, if you use the English word it becomes “Anathema” which sounds like a great name for a psychotic lesbian James Bond villain but not so much a male rat. I had Sibyl-Anne’s fiancé Taboum as Kaboom until the Araki movie came out, and switched it to Boomer. Floozemaker, I just changed a vowel from the French Flouzemaker for clarity, and Verboten, which is just the best name ever for a cop, I left alone. The fat rat king Ratticus deposes was called “Gudu” in French which didn’t really work well in English either, but I think “Gorge” is pretty funny as a punning name for a gluttonous king.
You keep on harping about the 120-page, two-album “Ratticus cycle” as being so great. What happened after that?
What happened then is that Macherot got hit with a massive, crippling clinical depression. And unlike Hergé and Franquin who managed to control their depressions (in fact each jiu-jitsued his depression into a masterpiece, but that’s another story), it did immediate, massive damage to his work. His drawing, from what I understand largely as a result of his medication which literally impaired his motor functions, went into a steep decline and he had to rely on someone else to write his stories – a guy called Paul Deliège, a perfectly decent Spirou “house” writer, who cranked out several Sibyl-Anne pastiches for Macherot to put into pictures. And in fact — to loop back to the beginning — this was exactly the period when I was reading Spirou magazine. Looking back these stories have their own charms, Macherot is almost never terrible, and Deliège really gives it the ol’ college try (and I respect the fact that one story ends with an Inglourious Basterds-style mass live incineration of all the villains, fully in keeping with Macherot’s darker instincts) but the work was substandard enough that I never got into it. (Even worse was Mirliton, a series of unrelentingly crappy short stories and gags about a cat written by another Spirou “house” writer, the mostly hacky Raoul Cauvin, which is probably the worst thing done by a great European cartoonist. It was clearly just to keep Macherot busy and earning money, although granted it’s not the worst thing to appear in Spirou.)
Macherot eventually climbed out of his depression, or got to the point where he could control it pharmacologically. He started writing his stories again and his art picked up, but it was never quite the same. The later Sibyllines are a little like ’90s Peanuts (or maybe Jack Kirby’s ’70s return to Marvel — or the last, weird years of Dick Tracy or Steve Canyon) — more obsessive, looser, darker (many of the stories are outright horror stories), the linework and lettering increasingly erratic. And not surprisingly, reader and publisher support trailed off and after a while Dupuis stopped releasing the work in albums. In fact, the last few hundred pages of Sibylline were never released in general-market album form (the final two stories, which are really eccentric, were released in a special limited edition a few years ago) and the entire series was allowed to lapse out of print. Insult kept being piled onto injury as Le Lombard let all his Chlorophylle work go out of print, and Chaminou had been licensed to another publisher who published it in a bizarre half-ass form split over two albums because they couldn’t cope with any album over 48 pages, let it go out of print, and this story is now tied up in litigation between Macherot’s heirs and this last publisher so it too is out of print. (Speaking personally this was a pain in the ass because it’s cost me hundreds of dollars to assemble even a partial collection of Macherot work through eBay, and some of the books are simply too expensive even for me.)
The good news is that an enterprising Belgian cartoonist called André Taymans purchased the rights to Sibylline, released several charming new Sibylline stories of his own as well as one of Macherot’s, and beginning this year is releasing a complete Sibylline, digitally remastered and scheduled to include those hundreds of pages of never-reprinted stories. Which is a godsend because we’re using his restored files for our edition. Like their U.S. brethren, Franco-Belgian publishers have been going on a binge of repackaging classic material in “Intégrales” and everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that someone will now do the same for the Chlorophylle material, and if the Chaminou rights get resolved I’m sure someone will be ready to publish that. Including me!
Which brings up the question, and please God make it a short answer: What are your follow-up plans for Macherot if this one is successful?
First, the sequel which finishes up the “Ratticus” cycle (Sibylline et les abeilles is the French title). Second, if the rights get resolved, Chaminou. I’d love to one day do a Chlorophylle but that really hinges on a European publisher getting it back into print and creating digital files for it. That said, even if Sibyl-Anne vs. Ratticus ends up being the only one we manage to do, I’ll be satisfied with that. It’s a quintessential, enduring masterpiece of Franco-Belgian kids’ comics, up there with Tintin in Tibet, The Smurf King, the Spirou Zorglub two-parter, and Asterix and Cleopatra. I simply could not countenance its remaining unpublished in English.
Do you think it will sell in the American marketplace?
I’ve heard from some knowledgeable people who think it’s lunatic to even try, but in some ways it may be more accessible than the “human” Franco-Belgian comics (like Gil Jordan for that matter). I’m convinced that there are aspects of the Franco-Belgian stylization that rub American readers the wrong way (which is why they don’t respond to Franquin) which are mitigated by the funny-animal dodge. I have an elaborate theor—
[In this installment of our series of Editors Notes, Kim Thompson interviews himself (in a format he's dubbed "AutoChat") aboutSibyl-Anne Vs. Ratticusby R. Macherot, now available to pre-order from us and coming soon to a comics shop near you. This edition is so epic, we've split it into two parts, with Part 2 appearing tomorrow! – Ed.]
Okay, Sibyl-Anne is being released kind of as the other half of a matched set with Gil Jordan, which I know you’ve been a fan of since you were a kid. I assume this is another childhood favorite you’re finally getting a chance to…
No, actually, as a kid I was never a fan of Macherot’s work. Never collected the books, never read most of the Sibyllines until recently — just not on my radar.
Okay, that wasn’t the answer I was expecting. Let me regroup. What made you change your mind? Is this one of the situations like American comics fans have with comics like Little Lulu or Sugar & Spike, which they consider “kid stuff” as adolescents and then belatedly realize how great they are as adults?
No, I don’t think so. I was a big fan of the Smurfs back then already, so I didn’t suffer from that particular anti-kid-stuff snobbery. And my love of Peanuts has been unwavering. It’s more that my peak collecting years of Franco-Belgian comics coincided with a nadir period for Macherot. It was like trying to get into Jack Kirby during his Silver Star years.
You’re going to have to explain that a little more, I think.
Yeah. This is going to go on for a while, sorry, but it’s complicated. Stick with me. I’ll throw in some pictures to keep you entertained while I drone on.
In the “golden age” of Franco-Belgian comics weeklies from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s (when Asterix exploded and brought Pilote into the mix), the two giants were pretty much Spirou magazine and Tintin magazine. As a quick analogy, the Tintin/Spirou relationship was about the equivalent of the DC/Marvel relationship in the 1960s: Tintin had the biggest of the big guns, namely Tintin (Superman) but was quite a bit stodgier, while Spirou had the more exciting equivalents of the FF and Spider-Man. So if you were a major Franco-Belgian cartoonist you pretty much ended up at one of those.
Macherot, as it happened, wound up at Tintin in the early 1950s, for which he created a bucolic funny-animal series starring a dormouse called Chlorophylle, whose most frequent nemesis was a rat called Anthracite.
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That actually sounds a lot like Sibyl-Anne…
Doesn’t it, though? Hold that thought. And while I would argue that Macherot was in a tie for second best cartoonist working for Tintin…
I assume Hergé being the first, but who was he tied with for second?
E.P. Jacobs (Blake and Mortimer), of course. Anyway, the way these weeklies worked is they serialized stories at two pages every issue, and then collected them into the “album” format. (Spirou’s series were published by Dupuis, Tintin’s mostly by Le Lombard although a few had gone to the Tintin books publisher Casterman.) And there was a definite caste system at both magazines/publishers, based mostly on popularity and sales but I would have to assume also on politics. At the top of the heap you’d get cartoonists whose work would get published as hardcovers (48 or 64 pages), then there was an intermediate level where you’d get 48-page softcovers, and in Tintin magazine’s case a bottom level of cheap, skimpy-looking 32-page softcovers.
Now Macherot, for whatever reason, wasn’t treated that great at Tintin. In fact it may have been partly self-inflicted: He tended to vary his drawing style and approach from book to book (whereas the successful cartoonists would find one groove and stick to it), he had a certain dark, satirical sensibility that was at odds not just with his chosen “cute” funny-animal style but also with Tintin’s stodginess, and the end result was his books ended up on the cheap/skimpy end. So eventually he decided to jump ship to Spirou…
Did this kind of thing happen often?
No. Cartoonists were pretty loyal, partly because they were on balance treated pretty well but also because the companies did more or less own the characters, so if you wanted to switch magazines you had to leave your characters behind. That was a big disincentive.
Like the U.S. comic books, then.
Yes and no. More like U.S. syndicated strips. Series were created by individual cartoonists and controlled by them, and for the most part they “owned” them enough that eventually contracts in the 1970s and 1980s allowed them to start switching companies (the first big case I remember was Morris taking Lucky Luke from Spirou/Dupuis to Pilote/Dargaud, but there was a flurry of it later), but in Macherot’s day if you moved you lost the characters. This is where Macherot’s creative restlessness stood him in good stead, though: He was actually kind of tired of Chlorophylle (he’d kept his interest up by playing with graphic styles and midway through radically reversing the fundamental concept of the strip by changing it from a Sibyl-Anne-style bucolic series to a fully urban “funny-animals who have an entire city and drive cars” strip and then back again — tinkerings which I’m sure did nothing to endear him to readers or his publishers) and wanted to try something new.
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This is a long goddamn story, Kim. I just wanted to know about Sibyl-Anne!
I’m sorry. And we’re not there yet. Macherot’s career was a relatively complex one compared to most other European cartoonists of his generation, who once they found their defining series just kept drawing that for the rest of their lives. “Morris: Created Lucky Luke. Drew it for half a century. Moved from Dupuis to Dargaud. Died.” Anyway, Macherot went to Spirou, where they offered him the top-of-the-line 64-page hardcovers, freedom to do what he wanted, and he created Chaminou et le Khrompire, which as it turns out is one of the defining masterpieces of Franco-Belgian comics, and is both a huge leap beyond and summation of his previous work: It’s a secret-agent funny-animal thriller, very self-aware, with some off-kilter characterizations (Chaminou is a bit of an egomaniacal dandy and occasional screw-up) and some genuinely dark moments. (Macherot tended to go a little more graphic in the animals-eating-one-another premise than most cartoonists.) There’s a scene in it that conceptually duplicates the final scene in Freaks, one of the most horrific scenes in any movie ever made, and plays it for laughs. It’s just unbelievably bold for the time (1964), one of those art objects that seems unique and decades ahead of its time, like Night of the Hunter (one of Macherot’s favorite films, incidentally) or Kiss Me Deadly.
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I can see where this is going…
Yes, everyone hated it! The readers were baffled, the publishers were dismayed, and even Macherot’s fellow cartoonists including Franquin — to his discredit, I must say — didn’t care for it. My understanding is that the publisher actually was OK with giving the series a second shot, but Macherot had had the wind taken out of his sails (or sales, har har), and at everyone’s urging did what cartoonists tend to do — as you saw when we discussed Gil Jordan yesterday — which is fall back on a remake of his earlier work, and (also at the publisher’s urging) aim again for a younger audience. And so the bucolic mouse (actually dormouse) Chlorophylle begat the bucolic mouse Sibylline, and Chaminou went on the scrap heap. Dupuis did release the album but, with no follow-up stories forthcoming, allowed it to drift out of print and it eventually became one of the collectors’ holy-grail albums. As a final odd insult it appeared without Macherot’s name on the cover on the first edition because Macherot was used to Lombard’s technique of adding the author’s name and Dupuis would have the author add his own name to the cover layout, and it fell through the cracks.
So he came up with Sibylline…
Congratulations, we’re thirteen hundred words into this and you’ve actually reached the point where you’re talking about the book. What are you, R.C. Harvey?
Ouch. But you’re right, this has gone on long enough. Let’s break it off here and tomorrow we’ll talk Sibylline now that the stage has been set, in agonizing detail. (And I left out stuff: I didn’t even mention Clifton.)
I had a great time at OCX last weekend. I'm too caught up in catching up to write any kind of report, except to say that the convention is tiny and splendidly run, Norwegians are all wonderful people, the weather was exactly like Seattle except the days were longer (the shots outside Jason's gallery opening were at something like nine o'clock at night as I recall) and any cartoonist who gets invited by OCX, go, just go!
All photos by Lynn Emmert except as noted.
Jason had a small art show opening during the convention, featuring priceless original art elegantly hung from a clothesline, a little selection of cool new paintings (zombies, Hitler, the usual) on corrugated cardboard featuring several of his characters, and Jason animations.
Outside the Jason opening. From left to right, Steffen Kverneland, the back of Dash Shaw's head, me, unknown, Lars Fiske, Jason. Fiske and Kverneland are the co-creators of the great graphic novel/biography Olaf G., about which you will be hearing much more soon.
Reverse angle: From left to right, the back of Jason's head, Fiske, Kverneland, Shaw, me. I don't know why the store sign in the background apparently says "Bugger." Which is almost as funny as the sign my wife and I saw on a Danish ferry once, since "Have a Good Trip" in Danish is "God Fart."
The banner-festooned entrance to the library, the upper floor of which is entirely taken up by the comics library,"Serieteket." Picturesque Scandinavian blonde woman on bicycle in foreground. (They're just everywhere.)
Me being interviewed on stage by journalist Erle Sřrheim. [Photo provided by OCX]
The Drinky Crow bar is open for business. Patrons include Dash Shaw and Dave Cooper to the left; the bartender was from Oregon, oddly enough.
Close-up of the counter, advertising "Beer -- wine -- sodas."
Tony Millionaire, me, and a couple of Finns, one bearing a Drinky Crow tote bag with the Scandinavian equivalent of DOOK DOOK DOOK.
Now the joint is hopping! I can't identify most of these people but the tall dude in the group on the left is dashing No Lo Comprendo Press publisher Espen Holtestaul (publisher of Olaf G., Daniel Clowes, Persepolis, and the Norwegian edition of Jimmy Corrigan, which deservedly won the "best Norwegian edition of a foreign comic" Sproing award the following day), and you can see Lars Fiske next to him.
Yes, let's visit that library! Kverneland and the blurry back of my head.
The "Serieteket" library. Please, lock me in here and throw away the key. [Photo provided by OCX]
Look at all those comics! And hey, there's our own MOME! "Gorilla" is the name of an anthology, by the way, not a thematic grouping (which if so would have had a lot of 1960s DC comics).
Dash Shaw art display at the convention, studied closely by female fans -- perhaps lured by the amazing glam photo of Dash that led off his introduction to convention-goers earlier that day, much to Dash's consternation.
The convention tent. It was lovely until the cold snap hit late in the afternoon. Eventually they had to bring the guy at the door a shawl and mittens. [Photo provided by OCX]
Actually, this picture is in perfect focus: It's Tony who's blurry.
The Fantagraphics panels: Dash Shaw, Dave Cooper, Dave Cooper's dad me, Jason, and Tony Millionaire. We all love Oslo and hope to come back soon!
[In this installment of our series of Editors Notes, Kim Thompson interviews himself (in a format he's dubbed "AutoChat"), with a special contribution by the book's translator, Jenna Allen, aboutGil Jordan, Private Detective: Murder by High Tide by M. Tillieux, now available to pre-order from us and coming soon to a comics shop near you. Thanks to Janice Headley for assistance with images in this post. – Ed.]
Tell me about Gil Jordan.
He and I were born at the same time. Literally. The week I was born, the first issue of Spirou magazine to run Gil Jourdan was the issue on the stands. I only realized this after decades of being a huge fan of the strip, I should add.
In terms of the history of the strip, I would refer readers back to my quick history of 1940s-1960s Franco-Belgian comics magazines. Remember how I referred to Spirou as the Marvel and Tintin as the DC? Well, for most of his formative years and a bit beyond (1947-1955), Tillieux basically worked for one of the Charltons of the day, an outfit called Héroïc-Albums, where he cranked out a detective series called Félix.
Why was he stuck there? Was his work bad?
For whatever reason he'd originally failed to sell to Spirou, his first choice, and had to fall back on Héroïc-Albums. I guess it's a judgment call as to whether Spirou was right in rejecting his work back in the '40s, but he quickly developed and certainly midway through his run on Félix he certainly would have been good enough to move to one of the majors.
Why didn't he?
From what I understand he remained ticked off at Spirou's rejection and stuck with Héroïc-Albums and Félix far beyond what was necessary. He may also have been concerned about losing his ongoing characters (which were owned by Héroïc-Albums), a Gordian knot he eventually sliced in two by making his new Spirou characters very slightly re-designed and re-named carbon copies of his Félix characters. (He was the Howard Chaykin of his day.) This was a decision that would later be very helpful because when he had some health problems and wasn't able to draw for a while, he was able to take old Félix stories and have helpers draw in the Jordan characters and re-letter them, and call it good. (He also recycled some of the Félix stories into his writing assignments for other characters, but let's not get bogged down.)
[In this installment of our series of Editors Notes, Kim Thompson interviews himself (in a format he's dubbed "AutoChat") about Isle of 100,000 Graves by Jason & Fabien Vehlmann, now available to pre-order from us and coming soon to a comics shop near you. – Ed.]
I was surprised to see that the new Jason book was written by someone else. It concerned me a bit, and then I read the story and it reads like every other Jason book! If you hadn't told me it was written by someone else I'd have assumed it was pure Jason. Did Jason heavily adapt it or something?
No. The only thing Jason changed in the entire script was one panel: Fabien wrote the last shot of Gwenny to have a tear trickling down her cheek, and Jason decided to keep her expression more blank and ambiguous.
That's amazing. The whole book is just so... Jason.
Yeah, Fabien Vehlmann is a great French comics writer who works with a lot of people, and he has these chameleonic skills. The great Belgian comics editor Yvan Delporte (who shepherded Spirou through its best years and wrote The Smurf King) called him "the René Goscinny of the third millennium" and it seems appropriate: Goscinny was also a virtuoso at switching his style to match each cartoonist, if you read Asterix and Lucky Luke you'd never know it was the same guy. Vehlmann wrote the 7 Psychopaths book for the Sean Phillips-drawn BOOM! book, too.
The story is, Fabien and Jason met and got to talking, Fabien told him he had an idea for a book he thought Jason could really make something out it, Jason told him to write it, and he did.
One of the benefits of working in Jason's abstract style is that something that could be really, really gross (the academy for torture) is pretty benign.
Yeah, although much of that is how cleverly Fabien keeps the grisly stuff off panel. If you read closely the only torture you see actually going on is the scene where they're beating the bell with the guy's head inside it, which is sort of cute. And the heads all get chopped off off-panel, you just see the severed heads rolling into the panel with funny expressions on their faces. As Bill Gaines would say, it's all done in good taste! Oddly, it's arguably the most kid-friendly Jason book. I mean, it's less violent than Harry Potter.
I don't have many questions. It's just another great Jason book. Reminded me a little of True Grit.
Yeah, the plucky, mouthy little girl. I think it's just a standard character, really. You could probably just as well cite Addie Pray from Paper Moon.
Or Pippi Longstocking, from Jason's neck of the woods.
Kinda, although Pippi is Swedish and Jason Norwegian. Us Scandinavians hate it when you Americans confuse our dinky little countries.
It seems appropriate for this to be the shortest of these interviews, Jason himself being a man of few words.
What's next for Jason?
Actually if you go to Jason's blog, Cats Without Dogs, he's been keeping his fans apprised in great deal as to the progress of his next book, Athos in America. He's already told me what his next book will be, but I'm not supposed to tell. And he hopes to visit the U.S. again in the next year or two.
In a brave new world where practically every cartoonist by now scans his or her original art and sends us discs or drops files on our server, Gilbert Hernandez remains staunchly stuck in the 20th century, whence he FedExes us fat packages of art every time we have a new book of his to release. And thus today we were blessed with a FedEx carton containing his 50 count 'em 50 pages for the next issue of Love and Rockets: New Stories, premiering in San Diego in July.
Here's one of 'em. (Click for a bigger version.) You'll get to see the other 49 later this summer.
Working my way through the Joost Swarte book, I stumbled across this panel (I'm showing the French version because the Dutch one I have only in black and white, and it needs to be shown in color for the full effect), in which a woman Joost's hero Jopo is trying to pick up leaves him a kiss-off message written in lipstick on a mirror. And I thought, uh-oh.
This Swarte book is being printed in a "co-production," which means that two or more publishers simultaneously go to press on the same book in different languages. In order to achieve this, the publishers have to make sure that any alterations for translation purposes appear only in the BLACK layer (the covers are excepted from this) — so any text has to either be in a common language, or distractingly translated via a footnote. A red lipstick scrawl telling someone to fuck off (or in the case of the French version that he's a "testicle," which is kind of like calling someone a dick) in a foreign language is a definite reader-annoyance.
Between my own (ahem) vast accumulated knowledge and the marvels of the internet, it's rare that I find myself genuinely stumped by a line in a book I'm translating, but when I came across this particular panel in the Joost Swarte book Is That All There Is? that will (yes, it will!) be coming out later this year, I was mystified:
Jopo de Pojo is trying to slip out of a movie theatre midshow, and while the latter two patrons' comments are are self-evident enough (an irate "hush!" and a complaint about Jopo's trademark quiff, mistaken for a hat), the first one baffled me, as it seemed to say "would you let out the goat?" or perhaps "are you going to let out the goat?"
As it happens, there exists an English language version of this story created by the Dutch publisher, which Joost himself once referred to as a "hippie translation" (meaning somewhat erratic). And yes, the hippie translator in question had rendered the line with strict literalness: "Are you going to walk your goat?" Which was of no help whatsoever.
Now, I did suspect it might be some Dutch expression I didn't know (Dutch is not my strongest language by a long shot), but a Google search yielded nothing but a series of (admittedly very cute) photos of goats.
As I was flailing around, I started wondering if this was an insulting reference to Jopo's trademark foot-tall quiff (earlier in the book someone else had referred to him as "that idiot with the shark-fin on his head")... but fortunately, like Woody Allen pulling out Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall, I had access to the unimpeachable prime source and so I cut to the chase and just emailed Joost and asked him.
Turns out "letting out the goat" is Dutch slang for going to take a pee. Aha! (And Duh!)
I always loved that phrase. One big satisfaction of working as a translator is being able to drop in some of your pet expressions.
I went back and checked the French version of this story, and it turns out that translator also literally translated it as "letting out the goat," which I'm pretty sure is not a French expression for urination, or anything else. So I was apparently neither the first nor the second to fall into that particular trap; I was just the first to confess my bafflement to the author. Sometimes confessing one's ignorance is the wisest thing one can do.
...Unless Joost is just fucking with me. (Or, as the English would say, taking the piss out of me.)
PS: Talk about burying the lede: Yes, four years after we announced it, Joost Swarte has finally delivered the files for this book, and all I can say is that given how wonderful this book is and how utterly meticulous his (and his assistants') work on reconstructing the pages (from a rat's nest of originals, negatives, photostats, etc.) has been, that now seems like an entirely reasonable wait. You will not be disappointed.
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