Home > Bart Beaty's Conversational Euro-Comics
Crazyman, Edmond Baudoin
posted October 17, 2005
Many cartoonists are, not surprisingly, much better known and much more celebrated in their home country than abroad. But few cartoonists are as highly celebrated in France and completely ignored in America as is Edmond Baudoin. Baudoin is one of the few true masters of the comic book form, an ink-slinging genius of epic proportions, who has published dozens of books, none of which has ever been translated into English. It's bizarre, really. What does one of Europe's most respected practitioners of the art have to do to get recognized in the US of A? Well, maybe he could try a superhero comic book.
Indeed, that's what Baudoin has done. In what can only be described as the least expected comic book of the decade, I opened Baudoin's Crazyman
(L'Association) to find the story of, well, a superhero named Crazyman. This none-too-subtle gloss on Superman (Crazyman flies, has super-strength, is a reporter for a big newspaper, has a love interest named Louise -- you get the picture) veers wildly away from typical generic constructs. The book opens with a depressed Crazyman on vacation on Lake Superior, depressed about the fact that he often makes the wrong decisions. The marvelously Manichean logic of the superhero has proved to be his downfall. People that he's rescued turned out to be evil, and, in opting to rescue a cat from a tree in the Bronx, he failed to stop the September 11th attacks. Pity the poor superman, it's enough to drive him crazy.
The book follows his road to self-discovery as a metaphor for both comic books and the United States. First step: he gets laid (not surprising given that Baudoin is one of the masters of the genuinely erotic in comics -- as opposed to the prurient). Second, he confronts his midwestern parents, here depicted as the couple from Grant Wood's American Gothic. Finally, he travels -- to South America, to Africa, to the Middle East, to all those places that have been so painfully wracked by contemporary neo-colonialist policies. Crazyman is a superhero in search of a soul.
One set piece seems out of place in the work, although in many ways it is the most interesting chapter. When Crazyman visits Japan, he becomes embroiled with a series of manga types (the samurai, the shoujo sci-fi woman, and so on). Here, Baudoin steps out of the self-discovery trope to make a larger point about the form. It is a bravura performance, but one that seems oddly misplaced in the overall flow of the narrative, as if it would have worked better as a stand-alone chapter.
Nonetheless, the entire book works well because it is so gorgeous, and because the artist is so consistent in his depiction of the world. Watching Baudoin draw is one of the great pleasures in the world of comics, and reading his images is a close second. Working with a brush in an exceptionally loose style, Baudoin's images genuinely seem to flow from somewhere deep in his subconscious. It's a style that particularly works here, in a book that is about everything that is subsumed in typical superhero works. This is the best, and least typical, superhero comic book that I've read in quite some time. While it's far from Baudoin's best work, it's light years away from the big fall DC mega-crossover. More superhero comics like this one, please!