Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

April 15, 2010

Go, Read: An English-Language Translation Of Fabrice Neaud’s Emile

By Bart Beaty

Let me put this out there as a statement of fact: Fabrice Neaud is the most important cartoonist in the world who does not have a book published in English.

In the decade and a half since the publication of his first Journal (Ego Comme X, 1996), Neaud has been the world's leading autobiographical cartoonist. No one rivals the intensity or honesty of his work, the tremendous philosophical and political depths of his analysis of the world and his own place within it, nor the raw emotional power of his storytelling. Neaud is a cartoonist whose comics seek out the most crucial issues of our time - what does it mean to live in this age? - and he is an author who does not flinch from the answers, even when they are unflattering.

I have argued in The Comics Journal and in my book Unpopular Culture that Neaud's Journal (3) (Ego Comme X, 1999) is one of the most important works ever published in the comics form. It is an astonishing masterpiece, rivaled only by the likes of Art Spiegelman's Maus and David B.'s Epileptic. At this year's Angouleme Festival, Neaud was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Hotel St. Simon, and produced a new edition of Journal (3) with 58 additional pages. Re-reading this book with the new pages was like visiting an old friend for the first time in years -- things are how you remember them, but also somewhat, almost imperceptibly, altered. I was reminded, for example, of just how naked Neaud laid himself with this book, and how vulnerable he must have felt when he was criticized for it on the Internet.

imageThis feeling struck me again re-reading Emile, a 32-page short story originally published in Ego Comme X #7, and now available online in its entirety in an English translation by Travis Lealand with the support of the incredible folk behind the comixinflux translation project. The short story, richly illustrative of Neaud's remarkable talents, recalls his sexual relationship with a soldier in the days immediately before and after the publication of Journal (3) at the end of 1999.

What is most striking about Emile is the absence of its title character. Condemned by the internet for his "invasive" portrait of Dominique in Journal (3), Neaud refuses to depict Emile in this short story, filling its pages with images of Angouleme, of comic books, of classical music cds, and movie stills. The act of denial that structures Emile is an act of disappointment, and few comics have ever captured this feeling as strikingly as this one.

I firmly believe that Fabrice Neaud is one of the leading figures of contemporary comics, one of a small handful of cartoonists working at the top of the form. It pains me that no one has published a work as beautiful as Journal in English, but I am thrilled that Ego Comme X has made this short work available online for free.

Go read Emile now. It's the best comic you will read this week, I guarantee it.
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