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Bart Beaty On Bastien Vivès and Dans mes yeux
posted August 20, 2009
 

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By Bart Beaty

Bastien Vivès is probably the most talked about of all young French cartoonists today. Still in his early twenties, he's already published four books with Casterman and won a prize at Angouleme for his book Gout du chlore (2008). His newest book, Dans mes yeux, simultaneously highlights his current limitations and his tremendous potential.

imageThe best single word to describe this 134-page short story would be: slight. The tale told is an extremely simple one. A young man meets a young woman at the library. They flirt, they date, she manifests some emotional instability, they sleep together, she leaves him. There is very little insight here into human relationships, and cynics will say that that book seems naive. They're probably right. In some ways it is reminiscent of Jeffrey Brown's work, with its relentlessly narrow focus on all things romantic.

Where it differs radically from Brown's work, and what places the artist on a potentially more interesting trajectory, is the way that the book is formally constructed. Vivès presents the entire narrative from the point of view of the male protagonist. All of the images are drawn from his viewpoint, are seen, as the title indicates, through his eyes. The heightened subjectivity here would be a mere cliché were it not for a series of interesting pages in which the artist represents the protagonist's boredom by allowing the images to become unfocused. This is more than simply a clever trick, but is an aesthetic effect that heightens our understanding of comics story-telling conventions. On the other hand, during a few sequences depicting intimacy -- specifically kissing -- the gambit utterly fails, descending into a kind of mawkish awkwardness.

imageGiven the emphasis that Vivès places on his point-of-view drawings, the art has to carry the book. Indeed, the story and dialogue here are so slight, that it is almost fair to say that the drawings carry all of the interest in the work. To this end, dance scenes set at a party are among the most interesting here. Vivès has composed the work with pencil crayons and thin black lines. The panels are borderless and the figure drawing is very free. Generally, each chapter has its own particular color scheme, contributing to the highly impressionistic atmosphere of the piece as a whole. It is a great book to look at and most of its charms are apparent on the surface. You can probably gauge your interest in a book like this one by how much you like flipping through it.

When Vivès is compared to other contemporary cartoonists, the name that most frequently seems to come up is Gipi. This is not surprising. Each has a very supple drawing style that is loosely romantic. To my mind, Gipi is still way out in front of Vivès in terms of storytelling (actually, he's way out in front of just about everyone...), and this is where Vivès most needs to close the gap. Nonetheless, and despite these reservations, there are very few 25-year-old artists who deserve as close a look as Bastien Vivès.

You can find more of his short comics work at his blog.

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* Dans mes yeux, Bastien Vivès, KSTR, March 2009, 9782203020627 (ISBN13), 16 Euros.

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* art from Dans mes yeux

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