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Va & Vient, Emmanuel Guibert
posted June 20, 2005


It is fair to say that sometimes I don't quite get the economics of small press comics publishing. I understand (and celebrate) the desire of independent editors and publishers to put out whatever they want, often with no regard for expected sales or anticipated audiences, but, nonetheless, often their choices really surprise me. In the North American context, Drawn and Quarterly's Petits Livres series seems like an unusual move for the publisher, a venture into illustration by cartoonists for which there are very few precedents. In many ways, these are very straightforward books (and, in the case of Peter Thompson and Marc Bell, good ones), but their very eccentricity within the comics scene makes them seem somewhat out of place in the typical comic book store, and I have seen more than one potential reader put Thompson's book back on the shelf when they realized that it had no words to go with the pictures.

imageA great example of the fish out of water book is provided this month by L'Association, who have published Va & Vient by Emmanuel Guibert. Guibert, is the cartoonist behind two of my favorite ongoing works at the moment, La Guerre d'Alan (a wartime biography of his friend Alan Cope), and Le Photographe (a fantastic biography of MSF aid workers in Afghanistan), as well as the artist responsible for my favorite current album series (Olives Noires, with writer Joann Sfar). I think that the guy is some sort of genius. I love his soft lines, the suppleness of his figures, the way that he plays with background/foreground distinctions, and the complexity that he brings to issues of memory and social justice. So, a new book from Guibert means that I am totally there. But I'm left wondering how many people will follow me.


Va & Vient is a departure for Guibert. Each page is composed of a single black and white image, with a single sentence (in pink) written below. There are seven (banal) sentences in total. These are repeated three times to produced a twenty-two page book. The images are printed only on the right-hand pages, with the left being blank pink pages. These become progressively darker each time that the story begins again. To even suggest the story of a twenty-two image book would be to give too much away, so suffice to say that this is just a clever little formal game. It's nicely drawn, the writing is smart, and the ending is actually funny, even though it's telegraphed from (literally) the first page. I like it a lot, but it's so minor that I'm almost hesitant to bring the whole thing up.

Which brings me back to the audience question? This is a 20 Euro hardcover book, and I'm left asking: Are there really enough hardcore art comics fans out there in the world willing to pay almost a dollar and a half per page for a beautifully produced bon bon such as this? Most of me hopes that this kind of aesthetic risk-taking is, if not rewarded, at least not bankrupting. There has to be some place for the sweet, smart book, but I'm not convinced that the comics market is it.


Next time: L'Association releases a book by an unknown for the first time in a long, long time: Boris Bukulin's L'Aventure des Opposants.

cover from va & vient, from le photogaphe, from va & vient