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March 15, 2007


Conversational Euro-Comics: A Few Words on Remaining Prize Winners 03

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By Bart Beaty

The "Revelation" prize at Angouleme this year, essentially the award for best new artist(s), may have also gone to the best overall book: Panier de Singe (L'Association) by Florent Ruppert and Jerome Mulot. With only the Grand Prize winner left to review, it's clear to me that this one is head and shoulders above the other winners, all of whom had much to recommend them. The consensus among people that I spoke to at the festival was that Ruppert and Mulot are the next big thing and that in ten years time they will be regarded as the most important new stars to have emerged in this decade. One person told me that the only thing that might derail this duo is their own awareness of the fact that they are nascent geniuses. These guys, the story goes, know that they're the best, and hopefully that won't derail them.

Let me tell you about how they're working right now. I spent a little bit of time with them on the Saturday afternoon as they were signing books. Dupuy and Berberian have long parodied the idea that they work on a single page simultaneously, so close is their collaboration. They don't do that, but Rupert and Mulot actually do. Here's how they signed a copy of Safari Monseigneur for me:

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While I spoke at length about the work with one of the artists (it really, really doesn't matter which), the other traced out a circle and oval on the title page of the book. Inside that he slowly drew a Batman logo. While talking to me, both of them started to simultaneously, and distractedly, color in the logo and the space around it with pencil crayons. Then they used brushes and water to create a wash on the page. After some more discussion, and some drying time, the image was exacto-knifed out of the book, and a button making machine was somehow produced. Bingo-bango, they made me a Batman lapel pin, and then signed the empty hole in my book. The whole process took about ten minutes.

At other times I watched an even more intricate process, whereby they produced portraits of the person for whom they were signing and then spent 15 minutes building an elaborate frame for the drawing from the back of the book. This process included four wooden stamps and a stencil. This signing as live performance was amazing to behold -- I spent at least an hour hanging around watching it -- and is probably the surest sign that these guys are fully aware of the fact that they've got it going on.

The other proof is in the book. I previously reviewed Ruppert and Mulot's first book, Safari Monseigneur, and absolutely adored it. This book is no different. Indeed, I couldn't choose between them as far as quality goes. Panier de Singe is a dark, disturbing but nonetheless truly hilarious book. It's by far the funniest thing that I've read this year.

The book features a series of short stories and gag pieces integrated into a longer account about two videographers (Rupert and Mulot) who break into a zoo at night to document the sexual abuse of the animals. Alongside long discussions about bestiality involving giraffes, we find a series of bits in which the two videographers act as portraitists, taking photos in bizarre situations (a duel in an S&M club, a bizarre assassination in which the killers paint a rocket to look like Tintin's, and, my absolute favorite, a possible suicide involving a man with an aluminum boomerang, a Prussian military helmet and an apple). The last of these highlights everything you need to know about Rupert and Mulot's dry and deadpan sense of humor, with a hilarious three-page sequences in which the photographers try to imagine why their subject has dozens of deep scars on his face and a payoff that left me absolutely stunned.

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But wait, that's not all. If they were just funny, that would be one thing. If they were just smart, that would be another. But they're funny about being smart, and smart about being funny. Panier de singe is filled with oddball elements. The book comes with a series of phenakistiscopes that you can manufacture (a la Chris Ware's ANL) by disassembling your book (or by downloading the material from their site), as well as a series of eleven pornographic images of animals in the zoo that can be assembled by folding the pages of the book in bizarre combinations (or, again, by downloading them and printing them). The entire book is about the process of representation itself, with outmoded forms of picture-making taking central stage in the same way that outmoded notions of colonial superiority defined Safari Monseigneur. It is rare, and rewarding, to find artists who are so deeply enmeshed in the philosophical and theoretical issues that their work conjures, and who are still able to keep their work compellingly light.

I end about ninety per cent of my columns here bemoaning the fact that the work won't be available in English soon, but in this case I know you won't be waiting long to see an English edition of this work (does the publisher need a pre-constituted blurb? Here you go: Rupert and Mulot are the smartest and funniest cartoonists to have emerged in a generation). It's too strong, they're too good, and it's going to be snapped up. Their newest book, Gogo Club, ships this month from L'Association, and while I haven't seen it, it's already at the top of my "to read" pile.

Next up: The last of the Angouleme prize winners, Shigeru Mizuki's NonNonBa.

*****

Panier de Singe, Florent Ruppert and Jerome Mulot, L'Association, 284414215X (ISBN), August 2006, 14 euros

*****

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

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