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Bart Beaty Reviews Valium Ab Bedex Compilato, by Henriette Valium
posted June 7, 2007


By Bart Beaty

There is probably no way to actually review Henriette Valium's new book, Valium Ab Bedex Compilato (L'Association), other than to alert possible readers to its existence. For his fans, this will be enough to send them racing to the store to snatch up this exquisite edition. For his enemies (who may well outnumber his fans by a significant margin), it will serve as a warning to stay away. And for those with no opinion? Simple. Take a look at this image:


What does it do for you? Does it make your heart race with joy? Do you marvel at the sheer insanity of the composition? The way that it is packed with so much visual information that it threatens to overwhelm every functioning neuron in your brain? Do you love the way it looks? If so, then you will love everything about this book.

Or does it make your heart sink with anxiety? Are you stressed out and overwhelmed by the image? Does it make you feel vaguely nauseous? Is your heart palpitating at the thought of hundreds of additional pages like this one? Then you might want to lie down now, this book is not for the faint of heart.

Valium has had some exposure in the US about a decade ago when Fantagraphics released a version of Primitive Cretin, and he appeared in some issues of Zero Zero as well. I can't say that the godfather of Montreal's underground comix scene ever truly caught on in the States (this book contains a nice short story about his nightmarish trip to SPX, where he seemed particularly out of sorts). But, in actuality, I don't think that he ever really caught on anywhere outside of Montreal, where his highly stylized aesthetic has had a major influence.


In France he is a hit with the bleeding eye set that makes pilgrimages to Un Regard Moderne for the newest offerings from Le Dernier Cri, with whom he has published in the past. Valium's work fits that group like a glove, and, indeed, one of the best parts of Valium Ab Bedex Compilato is a new introduction featuring the artist's trip to Marseille and the atelier of Pakito Bolino and Caroline Sury.

This new collection is a 25-year retrospective of Valium's work, and probably the best overview of his career that we are ever likely to see. The book itself, oversized and weighty, is marvelously produced on glossy paper that does wonders for the subtleties (yes!) of the color work. If you're a Valium fan, this book will nicely replace all your previous versions of his work -- this is the definitive object.

If you're not a Valium fan, there is probably nothing that I can say about him to make you interested. His work, though smart and funny, is highly visceral. Your reaction to him will be felt in your gut -- lust or revulsion. There is little middle ground with an artist working in this style. You take Valium on his own terms, or not at all.


Valium Ab Bedex Compilato, Henriette Valium, L'Association, 2844142389 (ISBN10), May 2007, 32 Euros


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