Crossing Borders: Chasing The Monkey
Posted by Bart Croonenborghs on Jan 2, 2013
For the first Crossing Borders of the year we enter the surreal world of French comics masters Ruppert and Mulot.
“Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.”
- Groucho Marx
It’s rare to find comics that use the surreal and the darkly comedic nature of mankind combined to produce a work that functions as an allegory in order to expose the Cimmerian sublayers of that particular breed of animal that is called Man. Multimedia artists Florent Ruppert and Jérôme Mulot have formed a creative synthesis where one is indistinguishable from the other, it is impossible to tell where - both in story and in art - one begins and the other ends. In this symbiosis, they rise to a provocative level of storytelling that exposes the human enigma and lays bare its cruel heart. And now you can read this creative genius couple in english.
Barrel Of Monkeys
Founded by long time comics critic and former Art Spiegelman assistant Bill Kartalopoulos, Rebus Books’ first publication is Ruppert and Mulot’s signature graphic novel Barrel Of Monkeys. Winner of the 2007 Angoulême 'Prix de Révélation' (Best Debut), Rebus Books starts off with a creative cosmic bang. Barrel Of Monkeys chronicles the adventures of two misfit portrait photographers entitled the portraitists. It is a mix and match of short stories overlayed with a bizarre and crude sense of humour where the portraitists function as boorish and sarcastic narrators. Absolutely nothing or no one is spared: handicaps, father-son relationships, hobbyists, pet lovers, social awkwardness, sexual preferences etc. Everything gets drenched in a veneer that dissects the human baggage that is implied in social interactions.
Very unusual is also their collaboration on the art. it is impossible to say whether Ruppert or Mulot is the artist since both profess to contribute as much as the other and even they find it impossible to say afterwards where their own line begins and the other ones linework ends. Their solid and fluent linework recreate the world in an abstract manner, boiling everything down to the essentials. By omitting facial features, the story can be found in the gesticulations and body language and all the semiotics the language of comics can handle. They experiment with panel placement, panel shapes, typography and modes of storytelling. The blank facial features lend a credence to the universality of their conversations while their occasional black hatch works provide anchorpoints for timing and visual jokes coupled with a graphic excellence.
Anyone who is interested in either a good rollicking laugh or in the language of comics needs to seek out Barrel Of Monkeys. Comics have never looked better or shone so bright a light on the darkest corners of our souls. If I have to do a soundbite, I would say ‘think Curb Your Enthousiasm on crack’. I strongly urge you to support this promising new publisher.
Barrel Of Monkeys is published by Rebus Books in english. It is a black and white softcover counting 112 pages and retails for €19.95. You can order this book straight from the publisher at Rebusbooks.net.
Where Ruppert and Mulot tackled the contemporary mindset of the human bestiary in Barrel Of Monkeys, in Safari Monseigneur they boldly take on the colonial conqueror. Using the portraitists once more as narrators and omnipresent know-it-alls, the creators present us with a dark mirror reflecting back our own western sensibilities filtered through the point of view of the one being colonised. It’s a neat trick and one Ruppert and Mulot use to full effect.
We’re being treated f.e. to the portraitists belittling the locals, soldiers setting up prostitute rings, disregard for local customs and the wildlife, casual outlooks on local culture and the list goes on and on. The portraitists are humanity’s carbon copies gone bad where our worst tendencies are amplified and brought to the fore. It’s dark, it’s comedic and could be even better than Barrel Of Monkeys because of its historical context and contemporary reflection.
On the art front, Ruppert and Mulot further deepen their clear line style using even less cross hatching which is kept in reserve to striking graphic effect. Their comic and graphic sensibilities create an even greater vortex drawing the reader into their black mirror universe. Just like Barrel Of Monkeys, this one also comes highly recommended and let’s hope that Rebus Books puts out a translation of Safari Monseigneur for the english language market.
Safari Monseigneur is published by L’Association in french. It is a black and white softcover counting 58 pages and retails for €12.20