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Bart Beaty Reviews Un Peu avant la fortune
posted February 15, 2008

By Bart Beaty


It's only a strange coincidence that the Dupuy-Berberian book that debuted at this year's Angouleme Festival is the story of a man whose life is transformed when he wins a huge prize. Written by Jean-Claude Denis, the acclaimed cartoonist responsible for the Luc Leroi series, Un Peu avant la fortune (Dupuis) tells the story of Etienne, a detective in Toulouse who wins the lottery, but is unsure about whether or not he should cash in the ticket and collect his winnings.

Of course, Dupuy-Berberian themselves hit the jackpot of sorts at this year's Festival, being named Presidents and accepting the honors, and responsibilities, that come with that position. It's certainly not a shock that they finally won -- I'm not too humble to point out that I tagged them as potential winners on this site before the announcement came -- but in the United States, where they are only now really starting to become known, it may come as a surprise to some just how well-established this duo is.


Drawn and Quarterly's lovely editions of the M. Jean books and the translation of their autobiographical Maybe Later (as well as the forthcoming translation of Dupuy's masterful autobiographical book, Haunted) have shone a new light on Dupuy-Berberian in this part of the world. Yet those books, with the exception of Haunted, are themselves a decade and a half old. In the intervening years the duo has released another five M. Jean books and literally dozens of other small projects. Indeed, the bibliography on the jacket of Un Peu avant la fortune lists no fewer than 44 books by the two men combined, another two by Dupuy (solo and with Loo Hui-Phang) and four by Berberian (solo and with Gregory Mardon, Jean-Claude Denis, and with his wife, Anna Rozen). What may be even more surprising is the fact that they have published these works with two-dozen different publishers.

In short, they are something of an industry unto themselves. Their illustration work, recently collected in the The Complete Universe of... (Oog en Blik), comprises a great deal of their work, and accounts for a great number of their books. That material is on display in the special edition of Un Peu avant la fortune, which comes complete with an appendix of sketchbook material and cover and character designs. This marriage between comics, illustration, and sketchbook seems quite natural in their work, which has, for the past decade or so, migrated towards a certain integration in which drawing, above all else, takes on a primacy.

I won't argue that Un Peu avant la fortune is the best book that the duo has produced, but it does seem very indicative of where their interests reside at this point in time. It is clear that they are migrating towards longer and larger projects (see Haunted, or Un Election Americaine). Even at 80 pages, this new one seems a bit brief. The story itself is quite slight, although certain depths are alluded to. Denis enjoys introducing anomalous material that is left largely unresolved. This is not a fault, though it does make the volume feel slight.


What I can say is that this is a book, more than most, that is carried along by the strength of its drawings. The art of Dupuy-Berberian has been gravitating towards a looser line for a long time now, and at this point even the work in Maybe Later seems stiff in comparison to what they're doing now. Un Peu avant la fortune, which is colored over pencils, features the loosest drawings yet seen in a Dupuy-Berberian story. This style results in a truly distinctive visual look. It is a real tribute to the artists that a book that largely features the story of a middle-aged man suffering an anxiety attack could look this compelling.

As I've already said on this site, I'm one of those people who was thrilled with this choice by the Festival. To my mind it places a focus on the joy of drawing that the pair has made so central to their practice, an emphasis that is never misplaced in the celebration of comics.


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