Celestial Bibendum – shall we test my insecurities once more?
Nicolas de Crécy
For the first time in full, de Crécy’s masterpiece! Nicolas de Crécy’s comics are mysterious concoctions where anthropomorphic animals interact with humans, mixing fantasy, absurd humour and realism with breathtaking, classically styled illustration. Charming images and moments combine with shocking frightening scenes.
That’s a little of the PR from Knockabout regarding this one. And we’re straight back in insecure me territory – I hear masterpiece and if I don’t completely agree I tend to doubt my own critical processes, and find myself trying to second-guess myself, worried I’m not really getting it.
And so it is with de Crecy’s Celestial Bibendum. Sure, I can see it looks beautiful (as can you from the few pics up here), and this oversized hardcover sure looks and feels impressive….
(See, impressive eh? The Celestial Bibendum by Nicolas de Crécy)
But the problem is that …. well, I’ll just come out and say it…. on the first read, more often than not, and right from the start, I was bored. Take your best shots dear reader, I’m simply passing on my reading experience.
Yes, I know Crécy’s work is not meant to be about the story, not so much, and it’s all about creating something that flits through ideaspace, moving hither and yon, characters in and out, plot twists thrown in for little reason, just because, all building until eventually it all ties together. And yes, in the end, everything does work out, everything sort of resolves. But dammit, it was a struggle to get to the end.
Second read through, and a further one in putting this together, and I’m coming round, seeing the brilliance in the work, things come together more readily. And dammit, I simply feel a bit stupid pointing it out that I didn’t really get it that much at first. Just between us, eh?
The cast is a strange one, and their actions often stranger….. the narrator a bulbous white disembodied head belonging to a now dead Professor. The story he has to tell concerns a fat white seal pup by the name of Diego. Never speaking until no longer in control of his own voice, Diego hops along ridiculously on crutches and a single shoe, always central to the tale, yet rarely playing an active role.
Pitching up at the magically fantastical city of New York on the Seine, all spires, gleaming tech, overhead gangways etc, Diego becomes the pawn in a grand game, adopted eagerly by a scholarly ensemble, instructed in the fine arts and sciences, primed for entry in The Nobel Prize For Love, the perfect embodiment of goodness existing as a fat, white, Bibendum of a seal. Bibendum – yep, I had to look it up – Michelin Man – and as to why it’s The Celestial Bibendum – that’s answered well in the final part … and yes, the dogs know more than they’re letting on…..
The subdued seal gets caught between a President truly representing his people in hideous grotesque fashion, falling apart before our eyes, and a Devil whose role in the worlds above and below see some changes through the book. Reduced initially to a comedic, ineffectual tutor, losing control in his class of unruly demonic pupils, he later reappears, in much reduced role, a passenger, literally and metaphorically, as he becomes pivotal in another strange creation myth, one with a lovely wet nose and wagging tail.
Artistically Crecy throws so much at the page over the course of the book. But whatever it is; architectural, figurative, paint spilling across the pages with incredible beauty, lighting playing a vital role, even the grotesque stuff Crecy imbues with a beauty that transcends the ugliness he’s putting on the page.
And along with the beautifully strange art, we have some absolute narrative delights along the way, my favourite being the moment the Devil claims that “we’ve already taken control of the narration” at the end of part one. It’s masterful, taking all that we’ve seen thus far and switching it on its head, with the Devil suddenly taking on a far more sinister and controlling role. Yet another bizarre brilliant beautiful moment in a book that feels magnificently flawed, or perhaps flawed yet magnificent;
There’s so much going on, such clever twists, so many disparate moments, such wonderful artwork, but my big problem with it is that first reading stays with me no matter what – that it’s just too distanced, disconnected, even though Crecy’s overview is ultimately quite clear, the problem is within the pages, where one thing never seems to lead to another, at least not to me.
It’s not that I’m frightened or cowed by non-linear, difficult stuff. Hell, I love it at times. But de Crecy’s method frustrates, even when I got it on subsequent readings; he’s doing non-linear storytelling within a fairly straightforward, albeit very weird linear tale. It’s wonderfully fantastical, a feast visually certainly, full of beautiful and strange ideas throughout, but in nearly 200-pages there were just too many times where I was stepping back, uninvolved, just observing something impressively constructed, but having no real involvement. But, as they say, that’s merely my opinion. Yours may differ. (See how those insecurities come back to haunt me? Damn them.)