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Safari Monseigneur, Florent Ruppert and Jerome Mulot
posted September 7, 2005
 

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I arrived back at work from vacation yesterday intending to catch up on all the little things that I had let slide while I was away. Opening my mail, I came across a package from L'Association, including a book by two artists (Florent Ruppert and Jerome Mulot) with whom I was almost entirely unaware (I think maybe I've seen their work in Ferraille Illustre and not really sure where else). Big mistake. I lost the better part of the morning reading and re-reading the book, and then showing it to people in the halls.

imageSafari Monseigneur is the best first comic that I have read in ages. I got the same thrill from this book that I got when I first read Tom Gauld, Anders Nilsen, Philippe Squarzoni, Stefan van Dinther and Tobias Schalken, Sammy Harkham, or any of a small number of young talents whose work makes my heart beat a little faster these days. That it arrived completely unheralded made it all the more exciting. A quick web search turns up little, other than they seem to be Belgian. Indeed, I don't even know if this is a standard artist-writer pairing, or even which is the artist and which is the writer!

Of the artists listed above, Safari Monseigneur most reminds me of Gauld, Nilsen and the Eiland duo of Van Dinther and Schalken. Graphically, the art has the minimal backgrounds and thin lines of Nilsen, although Nilsen's figures are far more completely fleshed out and realistic. The art here is sketchy -- almost doodled but is exceedingly well-composed, making great use of negative space. Formally, the influence of the Eiland guys (and other formalists, like Chris Ware) is apparent. This book uses word balloons more strategically than almost any I can think of, for example. Some pages are a mixture of extremely large and extremely small panels, with the narrative occasionally flowing around an inset panel that seems to come out of nowhere. That out of nowhere sensibility reminds me of Gauld's work. There is a similar sense of humor at play here, with bizarre non-sequiturs and deadpan punchlines. This is one of the funniest books I've read in some time.

imageIt's also one of the saddest. Safari Monseigneur follows two journalists on a trip to Africa with a European navy. If the nation is named, I missed it, but the book is clearly a commentary on the colonial legacies of countries like Belgium. The sailors are racist, sexist clowns, and Ruppert and Mulot highlight the devastation that the leave in their wake. For the most part, the book is composed of small gags about the navy and colonialism. Many of these are smaller than a single page, and none extend for anything more than a page. Nonetheless, over time, the accrual of small jabs turns into a knockout punch, as both a narrative, and, more importantly, a moral are allowed to push their way to the surface.

Safari Monseigneur is touching and absurd, hilarious and horrifying. It is smartly composed, constructed in a style that places Ruppert and Mulot at the top of their game before they've even really gotten started. This is the best debut comic in ages, and an absolute must read. The first great surprise of 2005.

PS. The artists have a website at http://www.succursale.org/ which includes a rather neat (non-comics) QuickTime thing in support of this book, as well as some animations. Is this what they mean by webcomics?