Louis au ski

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On one hand, Louis au ski is one of those classic stories relying on the principle of the crossing trajectories : a series of characters meet, follow the same path for a moment, before their respective trajectories take them in different directions according to their own tropism. A recurring picture in the book could serve as a symbol of this : in neatly formed curves, the story’s main character, the young Louis, crosses and crosses again the traces left in the snow by the teenager who is supposed to see over him, but who is instead already climbing back up in the chairlift nearby.

But, beyond the well-rendered little scenes, which paint a funny but somewhat acid portraits of winter sports, this book also hints at a story that focuses particularly on the passing of time, on the diversity of its pace, on the different temporalities that sometimes overlap but are most often separate. Following the customs of this Sisyphian hobby, the narration is cyclical, paced by the uphill lifts and the downhill runs, and evokes a well-oiled clockwork that would let us see all the gears running at different speeds, precisely scheduling meetings that remain impredictible for their protagonists.

The dominant temporality is the amin character’s, which adventures are frequently shown in subjective view. The other sequences are also mostly centered on Louis, who is nearly always present, if only off-panel, and provide temporal or contextual references, unless they open, for a moment, the more personal perspective of an omniscient narrator. The story is very continuous, following Louis in his every moves, and important changes in settings or temporal ellipses are rare.

But this continuous temporal flow faces bumps that speeds it up or lead it to stutter : from the dead time of the car trip to the queueing up (a repeated frame where time follows Louis’ progress in the file) or the search for a lost ski (a ski trace stretched across three panoramical frames), to the distended time, almost at a stop, of the episodes where the child feels danger and where his “doudou”,[1] a barely defined four-legged plush toy, makes imaginary appearances to save him.

Following those moments, the narration snaps back to a “natural” temporality, like in this beautifully observed scene where the child focuses on changing his shoes, completely in the moment across a series of frames that detail the action, until a sudden reverse shot brings back in the “adult” temporality, who have been observing him with some perplexity for a while already. The elastic temporality of the childhood universe is admirably displayed here, in its collisions with the adult and adolescent worlds, relying on a scrupulously identical panel format, that sets down their respective pace and allow to measure them. (other paces overlap those elements, such as the chromatic variations of the pages, every four pages or so, that corresponds to the weather changes)

The use of square panels of identical size, as well as other transition or framing elements (such as the massive variation of the sequences), inevitably bring to mind animation movies, a field in which Guy Delisle has been working for a long timep ; this impression is further reinforced by the two flip-books presented with the top-of-the-page drawings. And indeed, elements of temporality that refer to animation do emerge in this story, but added to elements that are integral to comics. And in the end, this book is closer to Jacques Tati’s movies, with its single day narrative, its nearly-mute characters (when they speak, they resort to pictures inserted in speech ballons, a device that usually denotes noises in comics), its egocentrical secondary characters seen through the eyes of a solitary figure, inadapted but still impertubably progressing, and over all highly emotional.

At the end of this day, with the obstination of kids who are always yearning to lear more and go further, the little Louis will have methodically explored the ski runs territory, trying all the lifts, pacing all the spaces, and will then be ready to finally sleep and get back to his “doudou” from which he had been separated in the first page. In-between, solitary like the reader, and for him as for Louis, there is the process of decyphering all the ambiguous signals of the world as well as the equivocal traces that this book weaves playfully.

Notes

  1. Here, my translation skills fail me, as a “doudou” is this special toy or piece of cloth that a kid carries around, similar to Linus’ comfort blanket, and English would have it most likely a “teddy bear”, only in this case, it is not a bear. And as “comfort toy” could lead itself to some lewd associations for such inclined minds, I have chosen to leave it at that, with this note trying to clarify this difficult point.
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Chroniqué par en septembre 2007