“Go, little book, and choose your world…”
Rodolphe Töpffer, First words of Monsieur Jabot‘s foreword, 1831
Jérôme has no parents. He lives in an oriental palace with an old mentor who raised him. But time has come for him to set out and discover the world and find his own way. The backdrop is egyptian, Jérôme’s girlfriend is named Sultana, a genie will appear along the way : the setting is that of the Arabian Nights (in the most logical sense, with its episodic structure), the structure that of the roman d’apprentissage. Yet, all this is not all pure fiction : as Jérôme is also the owner of the Alphagraph bookstore in Rennes, which used to publish the periodical Chez Jérôme Comix in which a large part of the Jérôme d’Alphagraph series was published in weekly installments.
Then, will the tale of the bookstore’s mythical creation be told ? One could believe it at first, until the character becomes more fleshed out and earns his autonomy. Nevertheless the route will be long, in a narrative that is not afraid to wander (as it is an oriental tale) and reveres the taste for strolling (the story is reminiscent of Robert Walser’s works). Jérôme then sets off for adventure, with his caravan driven by a talking donkey, but stops at the first village, as he finds there what he was looking for to make his dream come true : becoming bookseller. A caravan and a bookstore : two opposite emblems of nomadism and sedentarity. So what, books allow to conciliate both : the trip will be an immobile one, and teachings and experiences will be as graphic as exitential.
The Comic Art holds all the means to represent the wanderings of the soul : to counterbalance the scenes describing the daily life of the bookstores, Jérôme’s strolls bring him to an oniric countryside, a peaceful and desert nature, for long conversations with his donkey or himself. The page layout then expands, becoming fragmented against a full-page backdrop, somewhat like what can be seen in some sunday pages of Georges Herrimann’s Krazy Kat. The atmosphere also reminds of Fred, with his Petit cirque and the Journal de Jules Renard.
Built at a weekly pace, with a rather loose and improvised narrative, the story eventually ends up reflecting the evolution of its creator. The character of Jérôme is a light and fragile shell (“without my fez for instance, there’s very little left of me”, as he realizes in Jérôme et le lièvre), stretched between his anecdotical origin and the personality traits that he gains along his adventures ; a support of projection for us book-loving readers, he is one for the author too — and the further the story progresses, Jérôme’s writer vocation gets stronger. The focus then moves to the adventures of creation, its enthusiasms, its doubts, its daily life, its false starts, through the transfigurating filter of fiction.
All this is drawn in little touches, on the rhythm of conversation, the wait for it to carry on again for sole suspens. The line, precise for the contemplative backgrounds and free-flowing for the characters (reminding Bretercher), tries to finds itself along this short story that ends up being long, at times serious and at others light, talkative and silent, always charming. One should enjoy this book by small takings, to let it rise to the head, like a small melody that progressively settles in and then follows you around.