Au travail (t.1)
Comics as an art of memory, made of this memorialising substance which fills that gutter, that snare woven between the panels where the meaning of what is taking place is acquired through reading, through one reading. The Ninth Art as a game of absence, of suggestion, of the unsaid to be seen, of the unseen to be said, of the underlying recollection, of that dreamlike near-latency submitted/suggested to the orientated work of ‘reading’ by the dreaming artist or conveyed at various layers of consciousness.
Olivier Josso Hamel lost his father at a very young age, at the earliest age devoid of memory, nearly without words nor images, still out of time and out of the meaning it gives. It seems almost logical that, as a child, he fell in the reticulations of words and images where the look is meaningful, which became a fortunate lifeline giving him time to breathe, maybe even initiating him.
At present a author at the midpoint, he is now watching that young reader of life, the one who wonders by finding his inspiration in the network of panels and pages, turning it into the web of his own self, from where he can catch the world, or at least grasp it, where the world becomes less uncanny, becomes bearable.
Inner visions between orange sheets, where identity unfolds. The young Olivier used to draw on paper folders of that very colour, brought back in vast amounts from a radiology laboratory where they were used to protect and classify snapshots of body interiors made visible, where functions and dysfunctions finally came to view to anxious adults and therapists.
Surname, first name, birth, type and date of the examination, those printed identification items did not disturb the child. He found in them an unconscious foundation, he covered them with his constantly improving drawings (with his design to come), and made them the ground zero that distinguishes ups from downs. To elevate (to educate) oneself by having to dive, to see that underground or other surroundings that are filled by the disappearance, not like places of burial, but rather like places of accumulated memory, where everything is to be made up by the one rummaging, searching, analysing, reading.
From that blinding orange reminiscent of the warmth of the dawn, leaving room only to the black of sunspots black, the adult author adds the white of the Tipp-Ex, a correcting ink eraser. But this one does not erase, it is balances the whites, corrects the dominant and gives substance, relief, insight, even a distorted gutter where the present of memory and adulthood structure, link, and maybe reread.
The young Josso’s obsession with La mauvaise tête, a Spirou adventure drawn by Franquin, tackles the issue of the image of the dead inflated by the speech of exchanged family memories. This book, which belonged to an uncle and was found as a memory book left behind in a cellar, freezes the interrogation brought by the photographic portrait of a father, an image that acts as a memory better than the author’s own. This faded Fantasio head, inflated by a breath that becomes on with the speech in comic books, finds its value in the child’s eyes while he watches it rising, growing out of proportion and thereby revealing its true nature : it is a mask, a balloon that will blow up as soon as it meets a sharp edge.
This book will certainly become an important landmark in the history of autobiographical comics, because it does not nurture the chronology of those traditional childhood epiphanies lived through works that are absorbed rather than understood, and much later revered in a ridiculous and regressive collective worship. Au travail questions that of a dream, or better said, that of the ‘making dream’ in the composition of a memory and an identity, and all this in an even stronger way, as comic books are strongly intertwined with memory. No nostalgy, but indeed a reading and an analysis that explores the tangle of links basing cognition, even in the structure of pages that seem to dive into a gutter of in-between readings, books and living ages as well. Therefore, the book is as fascinating as the reading of the emergence of a subjectivity, and of the resurgence of a subjective reading.
- i.e. speak, talk, since, in the great majority of comic books, the act of speech occurs through the bubble, an expiration.
- Since the young Josso cannot read, Fantasio’s huge head could also be interpreted as a huge bubble replete with colours and signs.
- Let’s add here that enlarged, schematized, highlighted with white, Fantasio’s head is very much like a death mask, albeit a grotesque death.