I am not a reviewer, I am a comic writer and I feel somewhat compelled to write something so that I can better get a grasp of what it is that I admire so very much about David B’s work. I first read David B a few years ago – Epileptic, which is the most widely spread piece of his work. It was translated into English in 2005, possibly not long after it was collated into the one volume. It is monumental. I have not read comics in this form before. The rich imagery and heavy, heady, symbolism is almost unbelievable. The words in the piece were very flat and almost monotone, purely descriptive. This seems to serve as an excellent foil for the fact that imagery is so heavy and symbolic and puts the words into a stark new context, turning them from something realistic and plain into something new and somehow magic. From my antipodean perspective, it seemed so French, in that their history is so littered with such pagan folklore and everyday mythology, indeed the entire of Epileptic is permeated with an animistic world-view, despite the narrator’s overt assertion that he is purely logical and rejects his mother’s search for an almost magical cure for her son’s unseen illness.
I recently bought a few more of his works through Fantagraphics – the Armed Garden & other stories being one of them … more of the same stuff … unbelievable. I can only liken it’s content to that of the Dictionary of the Khazars, a book written by a Serbian man which is famous for the fact that you can pretty much start the book at any point and open it it at different points and piece together your own version of the events. The main similarity between the works is the settings – middle age, middle-eastern setting with strong elements of magical realism an’ surrealistic story-telling.
David Bouchard was one of the founding members of L’Association but left in the mid-2000’s due to differences with Jean-Menu Christophe, the last of the founding members to be involved with L’Association, and possibly the reason it almost imploded. After this point Bouchard’s work became more wildly distributed in the English speaking world as he began to be associated with Drawn & Quaterly, Fantagraphics, Pantheon and the like.
I recently got my hands on Babel #1 and #2 … my goodness. I’m not sure where to begin, somehow these works are so elusive in their nature, not like anything I’ve read before. Part of the beauty is, of course, the beautifully production of the Ignatz series of comics. Babel #1 was the first in the Ignatz series which currently numbers over 40 issues from an international cast of el primo comic writers. The other part of the beauty is the beautiful two-tone theme of the Ignatz series which David B puts to great use. Epileptic had been in black and white but from Babel onwards he began to use one other tone with a masterful skill that gave the themes of the works a stronger sense of mood, starkly different and somehow more subtle than his previous works. The storytelling weaves in and out of the present and the past, dreams and fables to give a sense that it is all one story. Again this feels similar in its structure, or structurelessness, to that of the Dictionary of the Khazars. There is a Jungian fervour to the story, a way of making sense of the themes of his own life that seem universal in their appeal. Babel appears to have lost the negative and headiness of Epileptic, but perhaps this is because through Epileptic, David B has found some form of catharsis and moved onto some sort of enlightenment. I look forward to Babel #3, whenever it is destined to be complete, with much anticipation. It has been some years since Babel #2 was completed, but somehow I feel that the longer the wait, the better the piece will be.
Take your time B.
All images – David B