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Bart Beaty Reviews Le Petit Christian 2, by Blutch
posted October 9, 2008
 

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By Bart Beaty

Some books you just read right away. I opened my mail yesterday to find a copy of Blutch's Le Petit Christian 2 (L'Association) and 25 minutes later I had finished it, convinced that it is one of the best comics I'll read this year.

Blutch is one of those tricky figures in French comics. Of course, he draws like some sort of god, sent from the heavens to make ordinary comics look pathetic. There are a whole raft of American cartoonists who have been deeply influenced by the look of his work, and probably a larger contingent of Europeans. But -- and there's always a but -- he's a tough guy to turn people on to because, as his detractors will point out, his stories are never as strong as his art is beautiful.

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For years, when I've talked about Blutch, the conversation has wound up with "You know what I liked? His Petit Christian material." Published 10 years ago by L'Association, and originally serialized in Lapin and Fluide Glacial, the Petit Christian stories tell the autobiographical tale of the young Christian Hincker, who lives outside Strasbourg and has an extremely active imagination. Now, a decade later, we are provided a second volume.

Petit Christian 2 is more focused than the original book, and is the stronger for it. In 1980, the 13-year-old Christian is on the verge of manhood. While on vacation in the Pyrenees, he meets Catie Borie, who quickly steals his heart. The rest of the book tells the story of his pining for this young woman.

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What sets the material apart from its fairly traditional autobiographical roots are Blutch's descents into his own subjectivity. Young Christian doesn't yet know who he is or who he will be, and so models himself on the screen personae of his matinee idols. In perhaps the best story here, he prays to Saint Steve McQueen, and takes even to moving like the actor. In another, he takes advice on undying love from the Marlon Brando of Last Tango in Paris (which he had seen on a friend's VCR), maybe not the best role model. At other times he is transformed into Tintin, lost in the desert of unrequited desire.

Filled with whimsical and genuinely moving passages, Le Petit Christian is a charming book that will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has negotiated the transition to adulthood in a media-saturated environment (men close to Blutch's age, which I am, will find it particularly familiar and cutting). Throw in the fact that this volume features exquisitely drawn sequences highlighted by subtle color work, and you have a book that is the total package.

Ideally, someone will pick this material up for translation. A single-volume collection seems called for, and would be a highlight of any publishing year.

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Le Petit Christian 2, Blutch, L'Association, softcover, 9782844142221 (ISBN13), 2008.

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