If the English can be said to love poetry and words, the French can be said to love the visual. Surely, France has more museums and galleries containing more majestic and exquisite images than anywhere else in the world. Surely, no one loves a story as told on the cinema screen more than the French. And heaven knows there is no more stunningly beautiful city on earth than Paris. Yet, much as we know this, we remain bemused that the culture that gave Proust to the world is the same one that drools over adult comic books, known as bandes dessinées.
For forty years, the city of Angoulême has hosted a festival dedicated to the bande dessinée, where some very prestigious prizes are awarded. It is an oddity of the French to overdetermine humour, as in their reverence for the work of the slapstick comic and charity worker, Jerry Lewis. In an effort to explain this love of comic books, the BBC (weighing in for that nation of not shopkeepers, but curators) on Radio 4, has done a little study of this corner of French passion entitled Cartoon Crazy.
The genealogy press in France has been agog of late, for it believes that genealogy has its first very own bande dessinée in the form of the "La Lignée" quartet, the first two of which have been published: "Antonin 1937" and "Marius 1954". The two anticipated titles are "Maxime 1973" and "Diane & David 1993". The books are written by a quartet as well: Olivier Berlion, Jérôme Félix, Laurent Galandon and Damien Marie. The drawings are by Olivier Berlion; the colorist is Scarlett Smulkowski. Allow us an analogy or two.
"La Lignée" is to genealogy as "Superman" is to NASA. Lignée means literally "stock" or "line" or "descendants". The plot might just barely appeal to psychogénéalogistes, for it hinges upon a curse on the men of a family that entails the first born son dying at the age of thirty-three. Since the first two died violently, this is not a medical curse. Since there is -- as yet -- no effort to identify the protagonists' forbears, this is not genealogy.
Much has been made in the press about the books being historical, which is deemed to be a good thing for this form of popular fiction. Good historical fiction has a character present at historical events; it does not have him or her replace true historical personages and/or alter historical events. That would be humour, as in Woody Allen's mock documentary, "Zelig". The first volume of "La Lignée" takes place during the Spanish Civil War, with Antonin chasing his belovèd to Spain and joining the Republicans. The second volume takes place during the Brest strike of 1954, with the priest Marius understandably fretting about the son he fathered as he aids the strikers. (Our brother in Oregon, who insists that we live in "a commie country" here, would see the historical choices as confirmation of his claim.) The former has no history lesson at the back, but the latter has one, with some old photographs and an explanation of what really happened. La Lignée has as much to do with history as the "Lucky Luke" (pronounced "looky luke") comic books have to do with the American West.
They are, however, real comic books. We like the familiar, large onomatopoeic words that blare "PAW! PAW! PAW!" (That's French for POW! POW! POW!) and BAM! and RATATTATT! The wonderful angles and close-ups and deep focus of the drawings are classic, as are the facile, tedious tales. Not for the Puritanical.
All in all, we want our money back.
©2012 Anne Morddel