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Contre la bande dessinée

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L’Eprouvette is dead, long live L’Eprouvette. Initially a collection, before turning into a criticism periodical over three imposing volumes, it has come back to being a collection without forfeiting its ambitions of providing a space for “theory, thoughts and discussions around comics”.
To this “around”, Jochen Gerner answers with a “against”.

Jochen Gerner is an author — and his problematic is as much artistic as it is critic. He shows, lists, displays, but leave commentary and interpretation to his ready. He gathers, collects, catalogs, and in his own way, he bears witness. Thus, in the second issue of L’Eprouvette (the periodical), he was already experimenting with “naked woman + weapon”, a typology of the covers of the books published by mainstream publisher Soleil. Following a short descriptive introduction, was a three-pages long list, precise and methodical, leaving the reader decide on his own conclusions.
Contre la bande dessinée (“Against Comics”, with its subtitle “things read and heard”) proceeds from the same inventory approach — even if this will only be explicited in the closing credits of this book. “The expressions, lists of words, phrases or paragraphs in this book integrally come from actual conversations, printed matter (various books, newspapers, periodicals and magazines), websites and radio or TV shows.”

Thus, coldly, Gerner reproduces, translates in his so distinctive style this succession of words and pictures. This is no more a collection of press clipping, it becomes matter — critic or acerbic matter, but moreover re-appropriated matter. There are echoes of other explorations around Tintin, be it his TNT en Amérique or the work around L’oreille cassée presented in L’Eprouvette.[1]
From this re-appropriation emerges the true nature of this book : not so much an indictment, but more simply the testimony of a certain vision of comics — a personal vision, that belongs only to the author. One could regret that all this is not duly indexed and numbered and referenced, as it would have been in an academic publication. But this is not what this is about. This inventory remains first and foremost a personal inventory, a subjective catalog — “things read and heard”, indeed, but by Jochen Gerner himself.

So Gerner lists, and his lists get listed themselves, illustrate each other, answer each other, complete each other. Contre la bande dessinée is articulated around thematics,[2] collections of texts which sometimes feature enumerations and carefully organized lists.
This is not a pamphlet, but that does not mean that Contre la bande dessinée does not take position. Of course, the title of this book inscribes it within a problematic, but one can wonder if this problematic is as simple as it appears, and if there wouldn’t be some part of actual criticism in this “against”, condemning a certain idea of comics that would finally only get what it deserves[3] — a point further emphasized by the publication of this book in the Eprouvette collection, in the line of others Plates-Bandes.
It would then be erroneous to limit the discourse of this book to the sole illustration of the bad image that comics cultivate in the various medias — once again, Gerner’s point is far more nuanced and complex, displaying a whole range of preconceived ideas and inept perceptions. His richly polysemic treatment (both graphic and “directorial”) then stands as a caustic and off-kilter echo of this multiplicity of acceptations, while sometimes bringing a counterpoint by producing enumerations that are as many stares back, defensive or critical.

More than a directly (simply ?) theorical text, Contre la bande dessinée proposes food for thought — some “against”, in order to think “about” and “around”. And almost symbolically, right after the preamble, the first page of this essai enjoins the reader to try a little exercise of “joining the dots”. His way of bringing in the reader, and encouraging him, in turn, to participate — a true initiation.

Notes

  1. In the third issue, “Caramba !”, p.413.
  2. To wit : Preamble ; 1. Object(s) ; 2. Decor and Colors ; 3. Characters ; 4. Narratives ; 5. Young Readers ; 6. Mediocrity ; 7. Sex and Violence ; 8. Censorship ; 9. Festivals ; 10. Exercizes ; 11. Culture ; 12. Literature ; 13. Cinema and Television ; 14. Theater and Opera ; 15. Music ; 16. New Technologies ; 17. Architecture ; 18. Drawing ; 19. Art ; Epilogue.
  3. Note in particular the quotes taken from L’Art de la BD by Duc, for a long time the only — or at least, the most widely available — comics learning method, from which emerges a particularly narrow and conservative vision of what would be a “good comic book”.
Official website Jochen Gerner
Official website L'Association
Chroniqué par in May 2008