From The Highlands To The Lowlands


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From anthropomorphic animals and the immigrant experience to ordinary people walking through … walls? We travel from Belgium to France to the US plus the illustrated covers of the 100 greatest novels.


First stop? Belgium. Since more than 30 million Americans have reading skills below basic literacy levels, literacy is a big issue and even bigger worldwide with over 793 illiterate adults divided over mostly eight countries. Belgian graphic design studio beshart did their part in 2012 for International Literacy Day (September 8) by putting forward a challenge to the graphic community: illustrate a book cover from The Observer’s 100 Greatest Novels of all Time list. The project became known as DoeDeMee - 100 Book Covers To Fight Illiteracy and showcases some truly exceptional illustrational work. You can see some of my favourites accompanying this column.

You can view the whole online gallery right here. You can also get a poster of any design printed of which €5 goes straight to Unesco. That Madame Bovary cover sure looks tempting. And there’s an IndieGoGo going on to raise funds for printing of the catalogue.

Visit the DoeDeMee - 100 Book Covers To Fight Illiteracy homepage. 



Next stop? The US of A. Fresh from the printers comes Humanoids' Through The Walls collection of Jean-Luc Cornette & Stéphane Oiry’s whimsical slice of life stories with a twist. The eight vignettes all share the same joie-de-vivre and are equally heart-rending and comical. Sometimes even both at the same time. Oiry’s scratchy pencil work with its cartoonish qualities plays off beautifully against Cornette’s emotive stories. Both creators excel in enlivening the mundane and making us feel about the characters even though we all see them pass by just once in every story. They immediately feel real, their worlds being our worlds except for the tiny fact that … some of them can walk through walls.

But this is just a minor part of the stories. The intangibility is introduced casually and never hinders the story progression functioning sometimes as an old school twist, sometimes as a resolution. Oiry’s eye for characterization in his drawings and body movements manages to derive some funny scenes from this introduced ‘weirdness’. The meat of the stories though is in the small things: a husband being dragged to friends of the wife forced to listen to them go on ad nauseum about their holidays; a girlfriend wanting to drive away a lonely evening suddenly being hit on by her boyfriend’s best friend; two colleagues slowly falling in love; a boyfriend taking care of his girlfriend’s cat while she’s away; etc. All recognizable situations which lead to comedy and drama where the ‘going through walls’-angle is not always necessarily a plot element. These are solid, well-drafted and fun comics. 

Through The Walls is solid Franco-Belgian comics. The Humanoids edition bundles the two orginal French albums into one gorgeous hardcover with quality reprinting, good paperstock and even a reading ribbon. If you like Pedrosa, Manu Larcenet, the Monsieur Jean books by Dupuy & Berberian or even Joann Sfar, you will like this book. And if the namecalling doesn’t ring a bell, I’d just say that this comes highly recommended!

Through The Walls is published by Humanoids. It is an oversized full colour hardcover counting 95 pages and retails for $29.95. Check out the preview at their site.



And finally we touch down in France. Some graphic novels tackle serious historic issues in a graphical literary manner, obvious examples are Spiegelman’s Maus and Satrapi’s Persepolis. Another good example would be They Are All Called Mohammed by Jérôme Ruillier with the main difference being that Ruillier didn’t actually live through the tales told but read about them in a book. And it shows.

They Are All Called Mohammed gives us testimonials from North African immigrants and the new life they sought in France in the late fifties up until the late eighties. Ruillier based himself on the Yamina Benguigui book entitled Mémoires d’immigrés but ‘based on’ does not mean ‘make pictures accompanying to the text’. The tales contained in the book recount uncompromising story after story of hardship and betrayal from the immigrant’s point of view. France has ever had an uneasy relationship with Algeria but the situations described within these pages lay bare a government whose concern for their immigrant population reaches lower depths than the mines the immigrants got slave labour jobs in. Heartbreaking tale after tale is recounted but the strenght of these tales is communicated purely by the sobre and straightforward language, not at the least by Ruillier’s drawings.

Ruillier’s catlike people function more in the sense of illustrations accompanying the text - and boy is there text - instead of utilizing the source material to tell a sequential story with his own personal aesthetic. Furthermore his drawings, though not without a certain attractive quality, are stiff and repetitive. It lacks an inherent graphic characteristic to make it stand out from the crowd. His faces are all alike and while this is clearly a stylistic choice, it is a bad one since the stories ooze individuality while the drawings are stuck in graphic limbo.

While the cover promises much, the metaphorical approach on the cover makes way for text heavy pages with accompanying illustrations that seem to go out of their way to appear lifeless and motionless. The tales of immigrant woe presented herein deserve  better and anyone interested in the life of Algerian immigrants or the immigrant situation in France is better off by reading the book. And let’s just quietly ignore Abdelkader Benadi’s comparison with Maus in this introduction.

They Are All Called Mohammed is published in Dutch by Oog & Blik. It is a 288 pages black and white graphic novel retailing for €29.90.

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