October 21, 2015 | by Robert Pranzatelli
“Even when you reach a certain level of success,” Jean Giraud once said, “there’s still this desire to break the established rules and be a bit of a delinquent.” The cheerfully libertine Frenchman spoke those words in his early seventies, just two years before his death in 2012, but he had voiced similar sentiments throughout most of his adult life. He was already established as an extraordinarily gifted comic-strip artist in his twenties, having created, with writer Jean-Michel Charlier, the immensely popular Western series Blueberry, which he signed as “Gir”; he nonetheless found himself intermittently beset by that restless desire to be “a bit of a delinquent.” A decade later, partly inspired by his infatuation with American underground comics and their countercultural freedom, that restlessness produced a creative eruption, a second artistic identity, and a second pseudonym: Moebius.
Blueberry remained Giraud’s most bankable project in Europe, but from the seventies onward he used its success to underwrite his more outré impulses as solo auteur Moebius. With virtuoso line work, relentless experimentation, and radical shifts of style, his fantastical works proffered a bouquet that could include the dark, the erotic, the whimsical, the intellectual, the bawdy, the scathing, the humorous, and the philosophical in countless, often chance, combinations. Characteristically, he did not leave a neatly ordered oeuvre; instead of a manicured garden of civilized delights, we find a multiverse of astonishing impulses. Read More »
August 25, 2014 | by Robert Pranzatelli
Given the recent centennial of the beginning of the Great War (as it was then known), I’ve found myself thinking again of Lucien Métivet, the French artist I wrote about here last year, best known for his works from the 1890s. The advent of the war brought an abrupt halt to the publication of Le Rire (Laughter), the weekly journal of humor to which Métivet was a regular contributor, but its publisher, Félix Juven, soon relaunched it with a small but significant change of title: now it was Le Rire Rouge (The Red Laugh), presumably in recognition of the blood of France’s soldiers and the dark nature of the times.
It had become customary for Le Rire to start each issue with Métivet’s drawings up front, and in the journal’s first new issue, of November 21, 1914, his was the opening image: an energetic, optimistic young conscript. The picture’s cheerleading join-the-war-effort ambience is given a discreetly poignant touch by a telling detail just outside the frame: to the upper right we see the typeset words “Au conscrit Maurice Juven”—a dedication to a young conscript whose surname suggests a close relationship to the magazine’s publisher, a longtime friend of the artist. Clearly this dedicatee was, like all soldiers, carrying with him into danger the hearts of those who loved him. With this single, seemingly exuberant image, the very personal stakes for the creators of Le Rire Rouge, and indeed for all of France, were acknowledged. Read More »
May 7, 2013 | by Robert Pranzatelli
Lucien Métivet’s name may not be familiar to many contemporary readers or art aficionada, and placed alongside that of his friend and fellow art student Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec it may seem, by comparison, thoroughly obscure. A century ago, however, Métivet was a hugely popular belle epoque artist, celebrated not so much for his paintings as for his posters, book and magazine illustrations, advertising art, and—especially—his humorous drawings. He embodied, in the 1890s and after, an idea that the world has only now begun to embrace: that a cartoonist and fine artist can be one and the same.
His 1893 poster portraying chanteuse Eugénie Buffet as a woman of the cold streets not only advertised her performances at the club Ambassadeurs; it immortalized her stage persona and made Métivet’s name at the age of thirty. It remains as much a part of the visual legacy of the era as Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters of Buffet’s mentor Aristide Bruant. But Métivet’s stock in trade for the decades that followed was drawing, swiftly and prolifically, for publication—whether supplying covers and cartoons for Le Rire (Laughter), the most popular humor journal in Paris, or dozens of illustrations for an edition of Maupassant or Balzac, or for a lesbian-themed erotic novel (or two) by Pierre Louÿs, or for the first two adventure-filled volumes of Paul d’Ivoi’s Voyages Excentriques, a hugely successful (and conspicuously deliberate) competitor to Jules Verne’s Les Voyages Extraordinaires.
Quantity and artistic quality, however, rarely go hand in hand, especially under deadline, and an undiscriminating catch-all collection of L. M.’s work is liable to make a poor impression, cluttered as it is with examples of the slapdash and the merely adequate. That the appreciation of a prolific artist requires selectivity is no surprise; the surprise, instead, is the insouciance of the exceptions, the fact that among drawings printed as amusing diversions a century ago there are those that still charm, still resurface with a wink and a smile to inspire a reciprocal smile across a divide of so many generations. The survival of the sunny and comic, as if blithely stepping over world wars, cultural upheavals, and time itself, is always a kind of miracle.
And now it is spring again, a time when ladies, and at least a few gentlemen, think of fashion. Métivet’s Modes Potagères (Vegetable Fashion), a full-page color illustration from the April 6, 1901, issue of Le Rire included a brief text as caption, which encourages us to note, and savor, such features as the lettuce bodice, pickle sleeves, and artichoke ruffle on the outfit of the dark-haired beauty in the pumpkin toque; and the beetroot princess dress with its green-pea flowerbed and cardoon collar with curly-endive neck ruff on the elegant lady of the cauliflower hat and carrot umbrella. With its precisely enumerated whimsicality, cheerful colors, and the evident and so-human pride and pleasure in the faces and postures of the models, this is an image perpetually floriferous. Read More »