The Black Cat, The Snapper and the Gloomy Grin
Three brilliant books from the low countries have recently been published in English, and in case you didn’t notice, here’s the skinny (or, as they are called in the bizz, some capsule reviews).
We talked about Serge Baeken’s Sugar earlier, which was just translated by Soaring Penguin. It is a wonderful ode to the life of Baeken’s real life cat who lived to be a grand 18 and explored life the way a jazz player explores the possibilities of harmony. Baeken lifts anecdotes and short passages from the life of Sugar and spins them into a real rhapsody of cattiness, with long, drowsy passages lounging in front of the window, but also quick and snappy raids across the room in search of god knows what. Most of the book is mute, but the final part, tying it all together in a toast to the Forever Cat, is essential. You will get back to this book time and again, if only to marvel at the brilliantly emotive artwork. But if you are a cat person, you will treasure this portrait of man’s true best pal.
Serge Baeken, Sugar. Soaring Penguin Press, 2018.
In Weegee: Serial Photographer, writer Max De Radiguez and artist Wauter Mannaert tell the story of Arthur Fellig, the legendary photographer who documented the seedy side of life in New York in the 1930s and 40s, and brought crime scenes to the front pages of the newspapers. Thanks to his tendency to suddenly appear out of nowhere (which was mostly thanks to his pals in the various police stations), he earned the nickname Weegee, as a reference to the Ouija board he was supposed to use to know where news would happen next.
The book is a dramatisation of Weegee’s life, but most of all an illustration of his uncompromising approach to his work. Mannaert’s art evokes the harsh black-and-white contrasts in his photographs, whether they are of back alley crime scenes or high society bashes, while De Radiguez reprises the matter of fact style of Weegee’s own captions. Overall, the book reminds me of the hard boiled cop dramas from the 1940s, with starkly drawn emotions and melodrama, and it’s all the more wonderful for it.
Max De Radiguez and artist Wauter Mannaert, Weegee: Serial Photographer. Conundrum Press, 2018.
Finally, Die Laughing is the somewhat strange title that Fantagraphics have plastered on the cover of their collection of André Franquin’s dark gags, originally published as Idées Noires (Black Thoughts). Even though he was the seminal creator of celebrated characters like Gaston Lagaffe and Modeste et Ponpon, and the creative genius behind some of the best Spirou Et Fantasio books ever, Franquin was essentially a gloomy man, suffering from long bouts of depression and continuous self-doubt.
As he was unable to express this in his work, which was still essentially aimed at children and young readers, he saved them for a series of short gags for Le Trombone Illustré and Fluide Glaciale, in a whole new style with lots of stark black and whites. Franquin’s world is one of stupid and sadistic people on the one hand, and powerless victims on the other. There is no escaping the cruelty of life, and all hope is destined to be pulverised. The seven deadly sins reign supreme, and the only thing we can do to prevent from getting crushed, is find the joke in the drama. An essential book, that’s never been more topical than in these dire days.
André Franquin, Die Laughing. Fantagraphics, 2018.