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Home > Bart Beaty's Conversational Euro-Comics

Bart Beaty On Laurent Cilluffo And New Wanted
posted April 9, 2009
 

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By Bart Beaty

I can't fathom why Laurent Cilluffo isn't a really well-known cartoonist. The French illustrator is all over high end publications like The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, and everyone seems to like his stripped-down ligne clair stylings. I thought his World Trade Angels (2006) was one of the more interesting and formally inventive graphic novels of recent years, but I must be in the minority on that as no seemed to want to translate it. I'm flummoxed.

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New Wanted (Editions Matiere) probably won't go a long way to changing this situation, even though it should. For one, the press is so small that I'd never heard of them until this past Angouleme, and even then they didn't have a booth at the festival so much as Fremok had some of their books for sale. I snapped those all up because, besides Cilluffo, they had three Yuichi Yokoyama books, which should give you a sense of the direction that their tastes run. All the books are small paperbacks, nicely, but not ostentatiously, presented.

Cilluffo's new one is an 88-page wordless comic -- ideal for interested readers whose French skills might be lacking. The story, such as it is, follows a man with an advertising sandwich board through the streets of New York. He is, at various times, hunted by the police, and witness to horrible destruction. The book is starkly, even obsessively minimal, to the degree that, when the horrible destruction happens, it's the funniest thing in the book. Cilluffo shows an arid sense of humor throughout.

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What makes the book so fascinating is the play of panels. Cilluffo's designs, as you can see in the accompanying illustrations, are starkly formal. Some pages read across two-page spreads while others seem not to. Some read primarily top to bottom while others read bottom to top. Everything is highly relational, dependent on the context of the narrative at any given moment and what preceded the action that you happen to be looking at now. It's no accident that the book is printed on graph paper -- every little box is linked together in every direction. Make no mistake, the book is a challenge to read because each new page has to be deciphered anew. But the rewards are worth it, and the book challenges conceptions of what constitutes effective storytelling in the comics form more forcefully than many other highly praised adventures in comics formalism.

As for the art, what can I say? I'm amazed by it. Cilluffo's drawings are little tiny compositional jewels with every line perfectly placed. He offers no more than he has to, and it is all that the careful reader requires.

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* New Wanted, Laurent Cilluffo, softcover, 9782916383026 (ISBN13), Editions Matiere, 88 pages, 13 Euros.

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He is much loved in Iowa.

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