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Home > Bart Beaty's Conversational Euro-Comics

Bart Beaty Reviews La Veritable Histoire de Futuropolis
posted July 24, 2008
 

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Though I read some Euro-comics (Tintin, Asterix, Corto Maltese) as a child growing up in the Anglo part of Canada, I wasn't deeply immersed in them until I moved to Montreal in 1993, where I threw myself into the used comic book stores on Blvd St. Denis and around the Universite du Quebec a Montreal. Having an already established interest in the American alt-comics of the day, I had difficulty finding equivalents in the used shops. Where was the cutting edge French material from the 1980s? One day, I pulled a Baudoin book off a shelf and had the crystal clear revelation of what it was I was searching for. I checked the spine, saw the word "Futuropolis" and quickly set myself on the project of buying just about anything in the store from the same publisher. And so my journey in Euro-comics began.

I was reminded of all this quite forcefully while reading Florence Cestac's remarkable comics history, La Veritable Histoire de Futuropolis (The True Story of Futuropolis), a comic book history of the influential Parisian publisher run by Etienne Robial and Cestac from 1972 to 1994. Maybe it's simply that my sentimental attachment to the press leads me to say this, but I found this book to be one of the most enjoyable I've read in quite some time. Cestac, who was nominated for the grand prize in Angouleme last year for this book, and who, of course, was named the Festival's president for 2001, is an absolute master of humor cartooning. While this is by no means her masterpiece, it is such a warm and inviting memoir that it has made me admire her all over again.

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Futuropolis, the publisher, was founded in 1972 when Cestac and her husband, Etienne Robial, released an oversized (30 x 40") edition of work by the deceased French cartoonist, Edmond-Francois Calvo, and then quickly followed that up with similarly sized books by up-and-coming cartoonists named Jean Giraud (two years prior to publishing under the name Moebius) and Jacques Tardi. Has any publisher ever launched with greater talents? The keen comics vision that guided Futuropolis from its outset resulted in a truly transforming presence, an artist-driven publisher avant-la-lettre that ultimately published the work of an astounding 328 artists over it's 22-year existence. And the vast majority of the work was interesting.

Veritable Histoire is a bit of a sad tale, because, as is signaled by the cover, Robial and Cestac stopped publishing comics almost 15 years ago, each moving on to other creative pursuits. The publisher was a victim of its own success, rapidly expanding in the late-1980s at a time when the BD market constricted. Toss into this mix a number of troubling personal issues for the author, and one might expect a dirge. This isn't the case. For the most part, Cestac focuses on the good times, particularly the early years of struggle in the 1970s -- where Robial and Tardi could go off on a week long book tour and sell only eight books.

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What makes this such a great book is the way that Cestac is able to bring this history to life. She is able to capture the spirit of an entire era with such economy. The book cover a quarter century in just 100 pages, but never feels rushed or forced. Perfectly executed, with impeccable timing and pacing, Cestac truly whisks the reader back to an age and place where it seemed that comics could do or be anything at all. She's the cure for the modern cynic.

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Those interested in buying comics talked about in Bart Beaty's articles might try here or here.

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