Since digital effects took over in movies, it is difficult to speak of blockbusters, because the computer does a very important part of the work. The actors almost always perform against a green background that is then filled in with all kinds of computer-generated landscapes and creatures. The result of that strange mixture is what reaches the screen. The artisan part of films like Cleopatra or Ray Harryhausen’s homemade special effects have fallen by the wayside. However, there is an art in which it is still possible to speak of craftsmanship and authentic blockbusters: the comic.
Although creators can get a little computer help, drawing a comic is still mostly manual labor. And, in some cases, it leaves readers speechless. Is what happens with Revolution I. Freedom (Planeta Cómic, Translation by Albert Agut Iglesias), the first volume of a series of three with which Florent Grouazel and Younn Locard intend to bring the history of the French Revolution to the comic and for which they received the Grand Prize of the Angouleme Festival, the most important award given to a comic strip. The result of this gigantic fresco of Paris in the summer of the storming of the Bastille, in 1789, represents a display of documentation and historical rigor. It is not only beautiful, entertaining, fast-paced: its recreation of the French capital of the late 18th century and of historical events that are part of the collective imagination of Europe is spectacular.
The two authors took five years to draw their comic: they were inspired not only by extensive documentation, but also by Barry lyndon, the period film that Stanley Kubrick shot only with natural lighting or candles for night scenes, or even in sleeves. Every detail is taken care of with realism and precision, from the clothes to the scenarios in which the story takes place: the courtrooms, the poorest neighborhoods of the capital, the assembly in which the Estates General are held or the shops of merchants. Grouazel and Locard have consulted archives, but also the first photographs of nineteenth-century Paris and their sepia color has been found in numerous vignettes.
The enormous work that its authors have invested in the funds, in the drawing of each of the houses, furniture, suits, rags, uniforms, streets or bridges in Paris gives an extraordinary density to the comic. Good historical comics allow you to contemplate and, at the same time, imagine a moment from the past. Fidelity to reality, in a tradition that includes Hergé or Hugo Pratt, who were obsessed with documentation, is part of the pact with readers. But, at the same time, the story, the drawings, the point of view of the cartoonist, are pure subjectivity.
Despite being the central event in the modern history of France and thousands of books have been written about it, there are still shady corners in the French Revolution and, above all, conflicting interpretations. Was it a slaughter without limits? An inevitable regime change? The first great triumph of the people? The beginning of the end of absolutism in Europe? Even the central day of that revolution, turned into the French national holiday, remains a mystery. Éric Vuillard wrote in his novel July 14 (Tusquets), who reconstructs that day: “You have to write what is ignored. Strictly speaking, what happened on July 14 is unknown. The stories we have are corseted or washed out. You have to think about things from the nameless crowd. And what is not written must be related ”.
Grouazel and Locard start from those two ideas of Vuillard: they portray the nameless crowd, because the characters that articulate the story come from all social classes and move along the story. And they tell what is not written. Or rather, they draw it. The storming of the Bastille occupies a small space in his 300-page account (which will have 1,000 in total when the three volumes are published). The Paris of hunger (bread had never been so expensive as that summer), of violence, of fed up with the privileges of the nobility, but also politics and the press, are the main protagonists of an unforgettable comic.
Authors: Florent Grouazel and Younn Locard
Translation: Albert Agut Iglesias
Publisher: Planeta Cómic, 2021
Format: 336 pages – 35 euros