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Home > Bart Beaty's Conversational Euro-Comics

Bart Beaty Reviews Two By Francois Ayroles
posted August 7, 2008
 

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Francois Ayroles is an artist that I have a lot of time for. When I first started reading Lapin back in the mid-1990s, his was among the works that most appealed to me, and as the small press movement in France (and elsewhere in Europe) exploded over the past decade and a half, I've never lost my keen interest in his work. He has a dry humor and a stark minimalism that are really appealing.

If he is known at all in North America it is as the artist on the comic book version of Chandler's Playback, a somewhat offbeat project that didn't really utilize his interest in comics formalism. One of the OuBaPo crowd of experimentalists, Ayroles is one of the smartest cartoonists going today, so sublimating his own instincts to the needs of Chandler's genre material was not necessarily for the best. A much fuller picture of his talents is provided by two new books from L'Association: Les Amis and Travail rapide & soigne.

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Travail rapide & soigne is a collection of older (and some new) material dating back to when I first became interested in the artist. Drawing pieces from Lapin, Spoutnik, PLG, Black, Comix 2000 and other anthologies, Travail focuses on the short, sharp comics in which the author first established his voice. Having studied at the comics school in Angouleme for three years, it is clear that Ayroles has thought deeply about the form. Highly formalist, and semi-abstract, pieces like "1 2 3" give us an artist in full experimental mode, while longer dialogue driven scenarios develop Ayroles' signature theme: the inability to communicate.

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Les Amis (The Friends) hammers this concern home. The book, structured as a series of short vignettes, features an endless number of scenes of people (mostly men) desperately trying, and desperately failing, to communicate with each other. Typically an Ayroles story features one self-aggrandizing blowhard lecturing another about his faults, as all communication -- and basic human connection -- is reduced to absurdity. The alienating effect of the writing is strongly highlighted by his drawing choices. Eschewing backgrounds and spotted blacks, Ayroles draws everything with a thin, minimalist line that gives all objects equal weight, an effect that, as with artists like Schulz, tends to emphasize even minor changes in stance or character position. Les Amis moves back and forth between the quick cut of sarcasm and the blunt trauma of bullying, all of which adds up to a very caustic view of human friendship.

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While Ayroles has published a couple of long form comics albums (Enfer Portatif, Incertain Silence), he really is much more a master of the short form. Travail rapide demonstrates the development of those skills, but it is interesting that, reading that book first, I found the new short story "La bande" (the gang) to be the strongest in the book. It was clear that here, Ayroles had found his stride. Les Amis, which is essentially a book-length version of that short story (though with more stripped down art), is really the artist at his best. Together, the two books let you know where's he been and, more importantly, where he's going.

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