Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary















Home > Bart Beaty's Conversational Euro-Comics

Bebe 2000, Caroline Sury
posted June 29, 2006
 

image

The first, and only, time that I met Oskar, the now six-year-old son of Pakito Bolino and Caroline Sury, was at Fumetto 2005. He was sitting on his father's lap, and both were making drawings. It was a sweet moment, notwithstanding the fact that Pakito was drawing a furiously aggressive panel in which one character yells "At Z End I Fuck You" while having a penis shot into her mouth (if you know Pakito's work, or the work of Le Dernier Cri generally, you recognize the relative timidity of this particular drawing). So, OK, maybe his work isn't family friendly in the traditional sense, but he seemed like a man who really loved his kid.

Now comes the back story. Caroline Sury's recently released Bebe 2000 (L'Association) is an autobiographical comic about her pregnancy, Oskar's birth, and the couple's first months as a trio in Marseille. Given the fact that Sury's previous autobiographical works include Frida Gastro, a disturbing work about her gastro-intestinal illness, it is no surprise that this birth story is not all sunshine and light. Indeed, when Caroline informs Pakito that she is pregnant, he does not take the news well. His reservations are not of the comic "Oh my god! We're having a baby!" type, but rather, as Sury depicts it, a deep-seated resentment. Bolino, whose life, like his art, is lived at odds with social norms, can only see the intrusion of the church and state into his son's (and by extension his) life. "You, in whom I placed my greatest faith, have betrayed me", he tells her. It is not a heart-warming moment.

image

And, of course, this is not much of a heart-warming book. It's definitely not the type of thing that you should buy for a pregnant woman. Sury, who edits the women-only anthology Vagina Mushroom, is an art-school trained illustrator whose aesthetic preferences run distinctly to the visionary. With a strong interest in art brut, her work is direct, unmediated, and highly personal. It is an aggressive, even disturbing, point of view, that many will consider ugly, even horrifying. It is also incredibly sophisticated, cutting, and insightful. Sury is the type of cartoonist that would be considered a naive genius if everyone didn't know just how smart she really is.

Throughout Bebe 2000, Sury lays it all on the line. This is a difficult work about a difficult time in the couple's lives. Indeed, the book's upbeat cover - with its pink background and happy space-age toddler - is one of the least representative packaging jobs I've ever encountered. The cover image is actually a detail from the last image in the book, a joyous epilogue that bears little resemblance to the pain that precedes it. The rest of the work is scathingly, brutally, disturbingly, and honestly full of trepidation, anxiety and fear.

Sury, like so many of the artists affiliated with Le Dernier Cri (Matti Hagelberg, Mike Diana, Henriette Valium), will likely never have a huge cross-over hit. She says things that aren't talked about in polite company, and she says them in a way that is both highly personal and totally uncompromising. This is not a book for many readers, but it is a book for anyone seriously interested in comics' most avant-garde tendencies, and the tensions that can be created in the form by opposing generic expectations and aesthetic choices.

And take my word for it, Oskar grew up to be a plenty cute kid.

image

Postscript. Last week I praised Danijel Zezelj's European-published work over his work for American publishers like Vertigo, and I specifically praised the story "Vanja and Vanja". Imagine my surprise, then, to find that story in the second issue of the newly relaunched Negative Burn. Readers are encouraged to compare those compositions to the work in The Loveless, also on sale this week. Plus, Negative Burn has an Evan Dorkin Milk & Cheese strip.

Second Postscript. I won't re-review them, since I wrote about the work in The Comics Journal six or seven years ago, but the two Dupuy-Berberian books released by Drawn & Quarterly this week are outstanding, and the production is superb. Both are absolute must reads for anyone serious about comics. Don't hesitate to buy both.

*****
image one: cover
image two: Pakito accuses Caroline of betraying him by becoming pregnant
image three: the miracle of birth -- Sury style

*****

To learn more about Dr. Bart Beaty, or to contact him, try here.

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