Friday, 13 February 2009

Flâneries - Proust and comic book heros

What could the author of the monumental novel A la recherche du temps perdu (In search of lost time) possibly have in common with Astérix, Tintin and Manga characters? The answer, of course, is that they are all comic book heros. If you've never managed to read Marcel Proust's epic semi-autobiographical novel, either in the original or in translation, Stéphane Heuet's beautifully illustrated comic book adaptations are an incentive to try.

The French love their BDs (bandes dessinées, or, literally, drawn strips) and take them very seriously, classing them as "le neuvième art" (after architecture, music, painting, sculpture, poetry, dance, cinema and television). Angoulême, a small city in south-west France, has hosted one of the largest annual international comics festivals in the world for the past thirty-six years.

The famous scene with the madeleine dipped in tea that triggers Proust's memories of times past occurs in the first part of the first volume, Du côté de chez Swann (Swann's Way). To counter the effects of a cold winter's day in Paris, the adult Proust absently moistens a little piece of cake in a spoonful of the tea his mother offers him and ... the rest fills seven volumes.

Five books in the series have been published so far by Heuet, some of which can be viewed online. His critics see the rationale behind the creation of the comic books as a failed attempt to democratise Proust. I see them as an original and affectionate, even humorous, graphic interpretation of Proust's cerebral stream of conciousness writing that disrupt comic book conventions of action packed narratives with larger than life superheros and villains.

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