Ye gods, the huge thing. How to address it ? By the numbers ? Like any press-release copist ? So — in exchange for your twenty-nine euros and fifty cents, you will receive a thick volume of two hundred millimiters by four hundred, with a thickness of fourty millimeters, weighing in at one thousand seven hundred and fifteen grams, and proposing under its dark purple cover the works of seventy-two artists, in eighty-five short stories across five hundred and ninety pages ; those stories having themselved been chosen among over three hundred proposals published between March two thousand and five and July two thousand and six on the web site of the collective (which name, let us remind you, is a direct reference to the circonference of our good old planet around the equator, that is precisely fourty thousand and seventy-five kilometers). You’ll appreciate that I can agree to copy numbers, but in full, let’s not be savages.
Such a book breeds respect, to begin by the stighly worried respect of the wrists of the reader who would consider the incongruous idea of holding it out for compulsion. One will rather settle down in a spacious and clean location, as the soft cover and the hard spine encourage reading on a flat surface (which gives the first and most obvious way to distinguish this fat book from its great ungle Comix 2000, which sported a rigid cover). The parsimonious reader who will choose to read it by small morsels, will be able to make it last for months. I know some people who still haven’t finished reading their Comix 2000, incidently. One will agree that this nonchalant technique presents some advantages : those thick volumes can be hard to digest.
Of course, this collection is build around a thematic unity (“travel and by extension all movement between one point and another”, indicates the preface), and this theme is in concordance with the project announced in the title : going around the globe, as was indicated by the use of “road markers” through which the perusers of the website could reward a story they had enjoyed, as well as the provenance of the artists included in the collection — many franco-belgians, obviousily, but also artists for far America or mysterious Asia, which gives the European autobiographico-navelgazing tropism a label of happy mondialization and cultural openness that might have been lacking in the eyes of some embittered and suspicious readers (because you have to be embittered or suspicious to risk the hypothesis that, maybe, the exclusive fascination for one’s own socks, raised to the work-of-art status by the sole fact that one is sketching them with ballpen on one’s blog, do not constitute the main road to an authentical artistic opening towards the others).
By now, I suppose it should be clear I have my reserves. I’ll allow myself a preliminary caution : there are some nice and charming pages in this big book, and all I’m going to write is not forgetting them, and do not cancel them. Yet, it is not with the desire to talk about those pages that I’ve finished reading this fat thing (and yet, I’ve took my time, believe me).
At the start, this idea of a trip around the Earth was rather seducing. How to go around it ? How to measure the world ? And this question, among us moderns, is always a question of movement (since Descartes and Newton, measuring the world always goes through the phase of defining the movement laws) : there was a logic, then, to deal with “all movement between one point and another” ; and there was some interest in seeing this classical question dealt with in new forms. This interest, unfortunately, is in part denied by the publication of this collection.
Again, let me be clear : I had enjoyed a lot of the stories published on the website 40075km.net, and many of them are included in the book ; so my issue is not about contesting the selection, but the publishing. This book is not a giga-mini-comic. Rounding up the world asks for more than a collection. There are interesting, surprising, beautiful, intelligent pages that it was enjoyable to read in a few clicks of the mouse ; one could get his fill of pictures in a few breaths, and could diffuse them later on, sometimes by thinking back on them, as a nice aftertaste. Once fixed down on the mass of the pages, fenced in by glu and cover, glossy and square, that’s something else altogether.
At the risk of repeating myself, this is not a mini-comic : a four pound book is going to last, to remain, to settle down on a shelf, it’s not going to fade away. You need content, you need structure : it’s no about getting the measure of the world in a glance, in a splash, in a few successive and sprawling touchs (the website used to give this impression of bristling, of permanent transformation), it’s about existing as a book. When I dedicate four centimeters of shelving for a fat tome that is probably going to last as much as myself or close, I need to know why I’m doing it ; and I’ll be needing to know why again by reading tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or ten years down the line.
I am not saying the pages are bad (but there are some that are), I am saying that the whole does not make a book, and that the pretext of the circumference of the Earth only brings light to this failure, by showing off the striking divorce between a trip around the world and trips around a navel, a divorce that was less obvious when one was buzzing from page to page online. On paper, exit the lightness of the sampled pictures : they are now juxtaposed, still, and under the thematic unity of the pretext, one finds oneself rather striken by the somewhat repetitive formalisme of a genre litterature that find trouble renewing itself.
Genre litterature indeed, this comic medium that is keeping to the same territories, territories that were uncharted only fifteen years ago, but that have been since all too much exploited.
Fascinated by its own 90s daring, completely focused on the holy grail of resistance to the previous decade’s obscene commercialization, the comic medium keeps on replaying its own rebirth. Without tiring, it comes back to the great purification, the return to things exeperienced and true stories — things experienced by the self, and stories of that self. In the road towards maturity that was opened in the early 90s, the first hundred yards have been well traveled, with the great awakening of spontaneity ; and so the medium remains stuck on this continuous innovation, and this repetition forbids it to actually innovate in any way. And the routine of themes echoes the routine of styles.
In fact, it is their accumulation here that cancels them out : the repetition of those ego-observations, skindeep but never further, does not achieve building a picture of the world, because their repeated lightness ends up in a rather awkward, heavy-handed naïveté. All those artists seem to share the belief that spontanity, be it in a story focused on the strict descriptive restitution of the daily life, or in a style willingly freed from any constraint nor polish, is the only possible way in comics.
Telling about one’s breadmaker or one’s dream, one’s vacation abroad or one’s most intimate landscapes, it remains ornery on the self, and never — or seldomly — the “classical question” that I was mentioning above. Not surprisingly, because that would require to accept the status of litterature. To have a memory, a learned judgment on codes, shapes and traditions. One cannot subvert or transgress rules that one ignores ; the past need to be digested to progress, and too many pages in 40075km comics have neither past nor memory.
It’s nearly laughable : rejecting genre comics, they end up rushing into the creation of a new genre of comics, as narrow in its way as the dozens of historical series of Glénat or the most stereotype-driven productions from Soleil and Delcourt. They ban all academism, but to end up in its most sterile version : formalism without distance, built of naive style, flat layout, unique framing, abstruse and empty esthetism ; and all this composes a formal standard for the easy minimalism in the art that echoes the stories’ automatisms.
Because in parallel indeed, self-telling ends up in standardized forms by trying too hard to avoid it, so that autofiction or autobiography become academic by rejecting adamantly all academism. Lacking a memory of its own history, the comic medium ends up stuttering innovations that have long ceased being innovative. Generations are laid upon generations, and if he has followers, Jean Bourgignon is still Jean Bourgignon, like in Fondu ten years ago ; the same goes for Rémi Lucas, Gilles Rochier, or David Scrima.
Scrima is a good example : did you use to read Nerfs de famille in the late 90s ? Well, Louise is fine, she’s growing up and will soon be seven, pages 554-559. The mini-comic version of Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame. There’s a fetichism of the intimate, the personal, the exploration of the self, to which I sometimes feel I’d rather prefer the resin fetichism of character sculptures.
In the end (because I’ve read, scrupulously, the close to six hundred pages, and I repeat that, taken on their own, I’ve enjoyed many, even though none managed by itself to save this book), I seriously doubt we should wish for a generalization of this shift from online publication to paper publication. I even wonder, thinking back on this narrow-view aftertaste that all this creative spontaneity leaves, if the real lesson of this reading would not be the complete opposite : there are plenty of novels that would read far better online. And that would allow bubu75 to tell Christine Angot directly that what she does just rocks. Positive feedback is important.
Oh, one last thing : no need to tell me that I’m angry, unfair, blasé or simplistic. I’m doing my critic job, and remember, criticism is done by jealous bitter men who don’t know how to draw (not mentioning that it’s easy while everybody know that the method is hard). If you disagree with my felling, I solemnly allow you to consider that I’m angry, unfair, blasé and simplistic, and let leave it at that.