I’ve been fond of comics for as long as I have been able to read. France, like the United States or Japan, has a graphic novel/cartoonist culture that runs pretty deep. In fact it would be fair to also include Belgium and Switzerland as well, who have made contributions to the canons of French-language comics and cartoons.
Tintin, Astérix, the Smurfs (or rather, Les Schtroumpfs) may be some of the most recognizable titles outside of Europe; although of late names like Persepolis‘s author Marjane Satrapi or Guy Delisle may also gather some recognition outside of the French-speaking world.
Last Friday I had the chance to hear two graphic novel authors/cartoonists/artists talk about their work: The Arab of the Future‘s Riad Sattouf (former Charlie Hebdo cartoonist, also a film director sometimes) and Diary of a Teenage Girl‘s Phoebe Gloeckner, the latter whose work has been adapted into a film released earlier this year.
Although I had read neither of their works, I did have some trepidation about Sattouf’s The Arab of the Future, a memoir of his (very) early childhood years living in Libya and Syria. I’ve become a complete sucker for biographical graphic novels after having read Persepolis, it left its mark.
Browsing The Arab of the Future in the Albertine Bookstore, Sattouf’s accounts is quite comical as the story centers around a small child trying to adjust to new surroundings of unfamiliar cultures, languages, and norms. Much of it deals with Sattouf’s father, an academic who turned down an Oxford teaching position to live in Libya in the hopes of taking parts in the construction of a Pan-Arabic ideal state. The younger Sattouf of the book is unaware and compliant with his father’s wishes, like any child would, in contrast to the adult Sattouf who recognizes his father as a fascist who held backward views and disillusions. Sattouf’s work is not a denunciation of his father, with whom he empathize without condoning his views, rather it’s his way of coming to term and making sense of whom exactly was the man that raised him. It’s like the old motto: « at first you hate your parents for being flawed, mortal human beings, and then you grow up to forgive them for it ».
Phoebe Gloeckner expressed a similar philosophy, being that writing validates memories, and that it plays a cathartic role in coming to term with the past, that story which we tell ourselves. Gloeckner’s Diary of a Teenage Girl follows Gloeckner’s sexual awakening as a teenager in 1970’s San Francisco, a story which gets much more complicated when she hooks up with her mother’s boyfriend. The mother didn’t seen to mind much the film adaptation, according to Gloeckner, since she was cast by a good-looking actress. The boyfriend, he, was much more coy about seeing the film, sneaking into a late night screening and later bragging to strangers that he had been portrayed on the screen. Facebook is quite a people finder.
So what of all this? Well it’s one thing to tell a story, especially about one’s life, but it is far more importantly to seek out the emotional truth of what we once were. Check them out, as I will myself once I get copies, two great artists who are both inviting us to the intimacy of their memories.
Missed the event? The talks were filmed and are available for your viewing pleasure: