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February 19, 2017


Conversational Euro-Comics: Bart Beaty on Paysage après la bataille

imageBy Bart Beaty

Whatever other difficulties that it may have had over the past few years, one thing is clear: the Angoulême festival is doing an excellent job of awarding its top book prize, the Fauve d'or. Over the course of the 2010s they've honored a series of great books, including Guy Delisle's Jerusalem, Christophe Blain and Abel Lanzac's Quai d'Orsay, Riad Sattouf's The Arab of the Future and, last year, Richard McGuire's Here. While I might not personally have picked each of those as the best book of any given year, they would have, at the very least, been in the conversation.

This year, however, they outdid themselves. When 2016 ended I was certain about my pick for best comic of the year, and, in a thrilling surprise, so was the Angoulême jury: Paysage après la bataille by writer Philippe de Pierpont and artist Êric Lambé. This hauntingly poetic masterpiece is one of the best comics in years, a subtly unnerving work about the transformative power of grief.

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De Pierpont and Lambé have been collaborators on and off for more than a decade now. They had previously published Alberto G., a quasi-biography of Giacometti, in 2003, as well as La Pluie and Un Voyage. Four years ago Lambé shocked the comics world with the graphically astonishing graphic novel, Le Fils du Roi (elaborately cross-hatched in ball point pen). Paysage saw a return to the simpler line art of his earlier work, now paired with breathtaking compositions. Framing and layout operate in this book at an incredibly high level to create meaning. It is a formal tour-de-force.

Paysage après la bataille is simple to describe in plot terms. Having lost her daughter in a car accident, a woman, Fany, travels to a mobile home park in winter to escape the world. Here she meets four people, a couple and two lone men, each of whom have their own backstories. While not a wordless comic, it is likely that about 300 of the 420 pages in the work contain no text.

Snow falls. Birds sing. A rabbit is buried. Life goes on. Or it doesn't.

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The work is carried by its misleadingly simple structure: plenty of single-panel and two-panel wordless pages lend the book its muted, understated tone. The vast majority of the book features grey washes and black-and-white line art, yet unexpected flashes of color signal major emotional highs and lows. In what is to me the book's most affecting sequence, Lambé cuts between images of a hunter and a showering Fany to create a potent scene of threat and loss. Few cartoonists could have pulled off such an understated moment.

"Understated" is the key word for this book. De Pierpont and Lambé don't compete with each other -- during the one key sequence with dialogue, for instance, Lambé literally drops the art out of the page. There isn't a misstep to be found in these pages. I've read this book three times, and, in all honesty, I got chills every time.

The best book of last year. By a wide margin.

*****

You can read about the highly accomplished Bart Beaty here. His writing about the various European comics scenes over the last quarter-century is one of comics' great treasures.

*****

* Paysage après la bataille, Eric Lambé And Philippe De Pierpont, Actes Sud, 9782330069988, October 2016, approximately $31 USD.

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*****
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