For its 2006 edition, the Angoulême Festival rewarded Le Seuil with the Prize for Inheritance for Locas by Jaime Hernandez. Moreover, among the nominees were also Dargaud with the first volumes of The Complete Peanuts of Charles M. Shulz — all in all two major works, but through which was acknowledged (without saying it) the work of Fantagraphics. Unfortunately, this is symptomatic of the attitude of most major French publishers — quick to buy some cultural prestige by claiming for themselves the restauration work done by others, limiting their contribution (and sometimes not even that) to delivering a honorable translation and a presentation more or less identical to the original.
Yet, it remains out of question to take any kind of risk with a book for which more than the minimum would be required — something that was clearly obvious for the anniversary of Le Lombard and their so-called fac-simile of Chlorophylle contre les rats noirs. The page listing the “missing books” of the National Book Center (Centre National du Livre) is confounding : the twelve most recent books were published by CNBDI (4 titles), Editions Toth (4 titles), L’Association (2 titles), Editions de l’An 2 and Albin Michel (one title each). Makes one wonder what the major publishers are doing, while they are quick to refer to the traditionnal values.
After having republished essential works by Mattili (the imposing M. le Magicien and Vermetto Sigh) and having launched the Archives collection with two of its founding members (Stanislas and Mattt Konture), L’Association has turned to one of this “missing books” of the bande dessinée, and proposes for the first time the complete Sergent Laterreur from Touïs and Frydman. Published in Pilote between February 1971 and December 1973, ths series will exist briefly over 108 two-page episodes, with are here gathered along with various covers, projects, unpublisheds prototypes as well as sketches and research drawings, for a book that aims at becoming the definitive reference.
108 episodes which, again and again, explore the stupidity of the army, around the duet formed by the eponymous Sergeant Laterreur and the unique soldier of the fifth company. All this is supported by a very aggressive and modern line, even if the colors remain firmly grounded in the 70s. Yet, there is a remarkable economy of means, the series building on a small number of characters and places, organized in a flowing page structure.
With a very classical dynamic, the big placid guy is the victim of the bouts of the short angry guy, orchestrated by the sentenced that the Sergeant yells out, speech balloons rooted deep at the bottom of his throat, as if he was vomiting out those shouts that also declare the end of language — simplified (“AAAENSHON !”), mutilated (even if those spelling approximations sometimes become poetic), spilling out of the frame and becoming barely legible.
The Sergeant’s outbursts do not need any reason for happening — as one can see with the absurdity of the recurrent and useless vexations, led by the leitmotiv of the inspection with its automated discourse completely disconnected from reality. To this overwhelming logorhea, the nameless and voiceless soldier answers with a pavlovian click of the heels, his only remaining means of expression.
Moreover, it is the army usefulness that keeps on being questioned again and again — an army waging an abstract war against a non-human opponent made of swarming machines, and army whose main role is to protect its barracks or the partying commanding body of the early pages, before it is replaced by a triumvirate of generals, both senile and patronizing. No homeland, no civils, no noble cause … and therefore no reason to exist. Quite the contrary, with an extremely infantilized military, as show the futile rewards it can hope fore — shiny medals without any real worth.
Indeed, this aggressive anti-militarism can seem sometimes a little outdated, referring to an era of the US military getting mired in Vietnam and the corresponding pacifist demonstrations. But as History stutters and that today’s “war on terror” is strongly reminiscent of yesterday’s “cold war”, the message in Sergent Laterreur still remains (unfortunately) very present…
- Since 1984, the National Book Center propose to French language publishers lists of books of which the publication or reprinting is considered a priority by its various specialized comissions, books that are deemed as missing from the editorial panorama.
To achieve this goal, specific incitative modalities directed towards publishers have been put in place. The books on those lists can benefit, in addition to the usual subventions, of additional publishing subventions that can cover up to 50 % of the total costs.
- Some even invoking a “cultural exception” to try and defend our good ol’ bande dessinée against the manga invasion.
- As well as, in my case, providing the opportunity to discover for the first time a work that is as old as I am.
- “Come on you lazy bum ! And you call this clean !”
- Note that there was a similar French context, as the series was published over a period rich in modifications to the status of the conscription : limited to twelve months by a law in July 1970, then defined in its four different options (military service, defence service, technical help and cooperation) in the Conscription Code of June 10th 1971, which will be faced with students uprisings contesting the removal of the draft respites, something that would be progressively reinstated.