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Home > Bart Beaty's Conversational Euro-Comics

Faire semblant c'est mentir
posted November 3, 2007
 

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By Bart Beaty

I recognize that the year is only half over, but I'm ready to declare my choice of best comic book of 2007: Dominique Goblet's Faire semblant c'est mentir (L'Association). It's tough to imagine that there will be a smarter or more interesting comic released in the coming months, and it is inconceivable to me that we will see one that offers a greater challenge to our expectations about the medium and what it can accomplish.

Faire semblant, Goblet's third major book after Portraits craches (Freon, 1997) and Souvenir d'une journee parfaite (Freon, 2001), returns her to territories that will be familiar to readers of her previous work, notably in the autobiographical arena. Souvenir was dedicated to the memory of her father, who passed away in 1998, and this one sheds more light on the father-daughter relationship, but not much of it is positive.

The book is organized into an introduction and four chapters. The introduction, drawn with reddish-pink ink beautifully, and ironically, sets the stage for what follows. A young Dominique, who has ripped her stockings, is soothed by her mother who "repairs" the stockings by putting them on backward so that the young girl no longer sees the damage. This theme, ignoring the damage in an effort to feel better, runs through the rest of the book like a train.

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The story itself, such as it is, opens with a scene with Dominique, her alcoholic father, and Dominique's daughter. It quickly establishes the relationship between Goblet and her father as fraught and tense, with her images, a combination of unlinked pencil drawings and watercolors, lending the proceedings a chaotic tone. These are stress-inducing pages, filled with a well-worn sense of menace.

The second chapter departs from the first quite radically. Co-written by Guy Marc Hinant, these pages (the longest section in the book) detail Goblet's romantic relationship with Hinant, and the way that it ended when Hinant began cheating on her with an ex-girlfriend. Goblet, who depicts Hinant as constantly haunted by his ex, moves here between extremely elegant half-page portraits and a more traditional comics layout. Interspersed are occasional full-page drawings, which consist almost entirely of obsessively cross-hatched oval shapes and ghostly shadows. All of these pages are produced in pencil on yellowish paper, as was the case with Souvenir, giving the work an incredibly rich look. I have seen Goblet's original art for Souvenir on display in the past, and her work is very large, and even more impressive on the wall than on the page.

Chapter three returns to Goblet's relationship with her father, in a piece told in two parts. The first depicts her as a young girl on the day of the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix. That race is sadly remembered for the crash that killed driver Roger Williamson. That death was particularly horrific. When Williamson's car caught fire, the fire brigade did nothing to help him. Another driver, David Purley, stopped his own car and tried in vain to pull his friend from the burning car while the race continued at full pace around him. It was a widely seen event that changed F1 forever, and Goblet here intercuts it to tremendous psychological effect in recounting a horrible event from her own childhood, in which her mother tied the crying child to a rafter in the attic. Moving from one aspect of the scene to the next across these pages is incredibly difficult reading, and one of the most powerful scenes that I have ever read in a comic book.

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The final chapter, again co-written with Hinant, deals with the recuperation of the relationship between the couple (although the ending is more hopeful than merely settled). While it begins with Goblet's traditional pencil stylings, the story soon dissolves into a series of oil paintings with single words written atop them in pencil. This dramatic change of medium is deeply affecting, and shifts the work into new areas of communication.

As I say, this is a tough and uncompromising book. Goblet lays her personal history on the table in a completely unvarnished fashion. Hinant, similarly, participates in the writing of two chapters in which he comes off as quite the cad. We have come to expect a high degree of honesty in autobiographical comics, but Goblet really seems to up the ante here, largely because her drawings seem much more direct and personal than do more traditionally framed works like Joe Matt's Spent or Chester Brown's work (good as that material is). It is not surprising to find unvarnished truth in a book whose title roughly translates as "To Make Believe is to Lie," but it is still unusual to read autobiographical work in which the author doesn't seem to be playing a character.

Complete with a foreword by Jean-Christophe Menu, and afterwords by Hinant and Goblet, Faire semblant c'est mentir is a dense and often difficult book. Goblet's visual style, which is wonderfully self-assured and idiosyncratic, makes few concessions to the market. This is not the type of book that is likely to be snapped up for an American edition because it is a tough, experimental work that makes no concessions in content or style. But those who do read it will recognize its immense virtues, even if they do not share my sense that it is the best book of the year.

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*****

Faire semblant c'est mentir, Dominique Goblet, L'Association, 136 pages, 2844142338 (ISBN10), May 2007

*****

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