Pepo has responded to my comments on his description of the visual qualities of Christophe Blain’s comics a couple of days ago. He emphasizes that, in comparing Blain with McCay and Herriman, he is not making a straight comparison of quality, but one of kinship. I got that the first time. He goes on to describe a very different comic, Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s Dark Knight Strikes Back as another comic that succeeds as a work of art because it offers up a visual vision of strong, compelling originality, implying that that’s what Blain does too.
And that’s where I disagree. Yes, Blain’s work is visually pleasing to look at, it’s impressive. But it is far from as original and as compelling as McCay’s, Herriman’s, or even Miller and Varley’s. As I mentioned earlier, it looks like the work of at least a dozen other cartoonists on the French market (only better than most of them).
Just an example: the latest of these cartoonists I’ve been exposed to is the young, stunningly talented Vincent Perriot. There’s a new work by him up at Coconinoworld, and it looks absolutely great. His juxtaposition of small vignettes and larger frames works like a charm. But why do all the girls look like clichés out of the style catalogue? Why does there have to be not one, but two coquette lesbian love scenes? (In the barn, with a voyeur deliciously perched on the beams… on the rooftops of Paris, in the rain… ah, la vie est belle!) Etc. My distinct sense here is that I’ve seen it before, many times, in French comics – this gratuitous giving to the arthouse crowd pinups that feel legitimate and generally indulging in a clichéd romance on the lightness of being.
Which brings me to Pepo’s second point. That there is nothing wrong with a cherchez la femme theme in itself, just as there is nothing wrong with exploring dream worlds, as McCay allegedly does (I’m actually not sure that’s what he does at all, but let’s leave that aside). I agree completely – the search for someone, for love, is an age-old, tried and true storytelling theme that takes very little to work. However, that doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t try. On the contrary, one needs to do something interesting with it, like several of the nouvelle vague directors did way back then, not just repeat all the banalities of one’s cultural tradition. This is what I was referring to when I was talking about the ethos of Blain’s work. It’s frustratingly shallow for so talented an artist.
By the way, if you read Danish, check out T. Thorhauge’s review of Dark Knight Strikes Again (aka. DK2) at Rackham. I agree with it to a considerable extent. If there’s an interest, I’ll try to get it translated for posting here. DK2 is an interesting work, and relevant for this discussion about comics as a visual art form.
UPDATE: Pepo’s answer here.