News about the premier academic journal devoted to all aspects of cartooning and comics -- the International Journal of Comic Art (ISSN 1531-6793) published and edited by John Lent.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Exhibition review: Carrément poilu at the Comics Art Museum, Brussels

Carrément Poilu. Sophie Baudry (curator). Brussels: Comics Art Museum, October 20, 2022 - August 15, 2023.


reviewed by  Laurie Anne Agnese


Carrément Poilu (Squarely Furry), an exhibition celebrating Le Petit Poilu (Little Furry), is currently on view at the Comics Art Museum in Brussels.  In 2007, the Belgian cartoonist Pierre Bailly and scriptwriter Céline Fraipont created the bande dessinée for preschool children; it has since expanded into an animated cartoon series and Dupuis will release the 28th album in March 2023. Le Petit Poilu’s world, his empathy and his penchant for humor also grows with each adventure and each album.  Like the comic itself, this playful and interactive exhibition offers something for visitors of all ages but especially for fans of the comic.  


The colorful entrance signals that this is a special comics exhibit - a small door welcomes just children under 5, and a larger one for everyone else.



There are no words, dialogue or narration in Le Petit Poilu. Children as young as three years old enjoy reading these wildly complex visual stories on their own.  Since the albums can be read independently without their parents, Bailly and Fraipont speak directly to their youngest readers. “Wordless comics may have the strength to be able to speak to children as equals with a whole series of strategies to convey emotion, poetry, things like that” says Bailly in a video interview playing at the exhibit (translation from French is mine). 


Le Petit Poilu balances simple and fun adventure stories with serious themes such as migration, gender or playground aggression. Bailly and Fraipont put immense care into the sequencing of the story and ultimately a great deal of trust in children: “We offer them an opportunity to go very far in their capacities, in their intelligence to be able to decipher a story, even at 3 years old. I think it makes children, as soon as they bite, want to taste it again.”


Once in the exhibit hall, children immediately notice the free maps of the exhibit and without words or instructions, they also know exactly what to do with them.  The maps showed the layout and also gave them a mission at each stop: find the colored stamps to complete the map. The map is also self-referent to the series. It is a souvenir to take, like Petit Poilu, who always returns home with a special object from his adventures.

Photo credit: Daniel Fouss/Comics Art Museum


There are several large enclosed wooden cubes with small entrances that invite visitors to get low to the ground and discover what is inside.  There was a note to give priority to the youngest visitors, but families tended to explore the cubes together. So the young and the old climbed, jumped, hid and crawled through each of them and immersed themselves in these unique worlds that reference particular stories in the series. 


Each album of Le Petit Poilu follows a similar structure with endless variety, like the daily life of a preschool child.  Poilu wakes up, uses a toilet that is too big for him, eats breakfast, says goodbye to his parents and walks to school. But then something strange and magnificent happens. He discovers a new universe and an unexpected adventure awaits him. The cubes capture this magical turning point: bright, vivid images from the bande dessinée combined with the sensory experiences of music and textures to depict this triggering event that puts the story into motion.


For example, the cube for La Sirène Gourmande (the first album in the series) is an underwater story where a large hungry mermaid swallows Le Petit Poilu, and he lands in a pile of rubbish that is her belly where the adventure to get out takes place.  The cube is awash in the beautiful underwater imagery and sounds, and the belly of trash is soft.





One very small cube discreetly sits in an unremarkable corner, and could be mistaken for a mouse hole. Once down on the ground, the visitor sees that it depicts the adventures in Madame Miniscule, where the size is turned upside down, and Le Petit Poilu as the child is large, and the adults and all of the objects around them are very small in comparison.



Because of its clever use of structure and repetition, Le Petit Poilu has a musical and rhythmic quality.  Each story hits similar moments with visual cues: Poilu shakes hands with a friendly character who will help him in the conflict; he looks longingly at a photo of his mother to give him courage to face the mounting adversity, and when the problem has resolved itself, he receives a special object to take home. All 27 objects from his 27 adventures are collected in a special cabinet adorned overhead with his clown nose:




 Like Alice in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth, Le Petit Poilu is ultimately a voyage and return adventure story. Once he receives the special object, the story ends by unspooling itself: Poilu returns home, reunites with his parents, eats dinner, and goes to bed. All alone in his room, he checks his bag and finds the object that he received - proof that the magical adventure took place - and brings both his world and the magical one together.


Lining the perimeter of the hall, large reproductions from the albums, sketches, original artwork and descriptive panels invite parents and children to learn together about the creation and backstory of the comic.  These panels are kept simple and placed at sight level to interest the younger visitors, but in reality, I did not see many children looking at them. They explained the process of creating a wordless comic, which starts with words and storyboarding first. Other panels highlighted the process of creating the look of Le Petit Poilu from a drop of ink.



 The exhibit ends with two adjacent rooms - one is furnished with a soft rug, floor cushions, and low bookshelves with multiple sets of the entire series available to read; the other features a television screen. Many visitors lingered there for nearly an hour.  It is a unique opportunity to read all 27 albums in one uninterrupted sweep, and visitors approached it in their own way. Some parents sat down on the floor and read the books to their children - that is, the parent created and narrated a story out loud from the pictures. Some children and parents were side by side reading silently to themselves.


Photo credit: Daniel Fouss/Comics Art Museum

Photo credit: Daniel Fouss/Comics Art Museum

 The other room features a looped video interview with Bailly and Fraipont.  The bench for watching is full-sized, and is surrounded by small sketches hung high.  In the video, the sound is off, and the subtitles are on - squarely aiming this space for the adults, perhaps to distract them long enough to leave the children alone to read the books. 


In the video interview, Bailly remarks how sometimes “words freeze and block things.” Drawing on a parallel with the silent films of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, he adds “there is not only burlesque, there are also a lot of emotions and humanity. This kind of intimacy with character is something that we can understand and feel without words.” In the albums, as well as the exhibit, there is space for fantasy within the reader and for their own words to tell the story.



 All photos taken by Laurie Anne Agnese unless otherwise noted.



Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Book review: Marie Duval: Maverick Victorian Cartoonist by Simon Grenann, Roger Sabin, and Julian Waite

Simon Grenann, Roger Sabin, and Julian Waite. Marie Duval: Maverick Victorian Cartoonist. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020. 288 pages, £85.00 978-1526133540.

Reviewed by Lizzy Walker

            Marie Duval: Maverick Victorian Cartoonist is the first, and much-needed, critical survey of Marie Duval's body of work. Duval is one of a few pseudonyms used by Isabella Émilie de Tessier, who was an actress on the London stage and also a prolific cartoonist, with a wealth of comics and cartoons published between 1860 and 1885. The authors examined various primary sources to analyze Duval's major themes, vision, and processes in relation to historic contexts. They provide a brief biography of Marie Duval, stitched together from public records, newspaper articles, and her body of work. They also discuss their website The Marie Duval Archive  created in 2016 as a key resource that provides online information about Duval and seeks out her unknown work.

            The book is divided into two main parts: Part I, Work, and Part II: Depicting and Performing. There are also two appendices on attribution and terminology. Part I is comprised of five chapters which "examines Duval within her own context, presenting an overview of the publishing industry and her place and influence in it" (p. 6). Part II, Depicting and Performing, consists of four chapters where her accomplishments are highlighted, along with the significance of her cartoons and characters (p. 6).

            Part I opens with a chapter on Duval's role working in Judy, a magazine where Duval was employed from 1869 through 1885. Sabin asserts that Judy was not merely a "low-level Punch clone" but was "innovative and often pioneering" (p. 11) and argues that Duval, as a cartoonist, was essential to the publication's development. After all, a woman was a key contributor in a time when most society held they were supposed to be relegated to more domestic roles and pursuits. He explains a serio-comic magazine is a publication that covers serious topics, such as politics and daily news, as well as more leisurely topics, such as fashion, humorous stories, cartoons and comic strips. Sabin also discusses the importance of the periodical itself, including the topics, the layout of the contents, and other producers of Judy, such as cartoonist William Boucher, editor Charles Henry Ross, owner and publisher William Spencer Johnson, and others.

            This brings us to Marie Duval herself. Considering her brief history, including her time as an actor and that she contributed art to other publications, Sabin states that it "is important to mention these other endeavors because they indicate that Duval, like her fellow practitioners, was part of the Victorian swirl of hustling and entrepreneurship. If you had a skill, you used it" (p. 21). Sabin discusses Duval's most prolific work on Ally Sloper; her unique style; influences such as Doré and Cruikshank; and content and subject matter of her strips (not shying away from mentioning racist and anti-Semitic content), as well as her theater work and how she was able to "bring the stage to the page" (p. 27). Sabin concludes the chapter with further discussion of The Marie Duval Archive in that as an online resource of her work, it effectively removes the context of the Victorian period. The need for this book is clear from this statement alone. By providing context into the publishing cycle in the Victorian era with an analysis of Duval's work with Judy as a whole, readers get a better idea of her influence on publishing and comics in that era.

            In the second chapter, Grennan considers how women "undertook work, performed work and visualised work" (p. 40). The author provides an overview of women's employment in the Victorian period and asserts that employment "was thought to make women masculine because employment was considered to be masculine. As a result, employment for women challenged conceptions of the significance of domestic life, upon which the highest personal premium was placed, for women rather than men" (p. 40). Grennan, referring to the women's household management roles, says "work in one's own house was not work, because it was not employment" (p. 39). One could ask if this notion has changed much in the following 150 years. Sabin noted that Duval and other women who opted to enter the workforce outside the domestic realm, which included domestic work, were considered to be masculinized, despite the fact they are acting as caregivers (e.g. the employment of governesses). Grennan then juxtaposes Margaret Beetham's assertion, that with the rise of mid-to-late century periodical journal publishing, there came "new visualisations of femininity," especially with regard to advertisements directed at women readers, with Duval's rendering of women in her comics (p. 46). Another juxtaposition Grennan mentions regarding Beetham and Duval is the benchmarks of gender, as well as providing a great example of how Duval contradicted an ad page in Ally Sloper's Comic Kalendar for 1878 (p. 49). Grennan examines the fictional woman employee in The Girl of the Period Miscellany and fictional editor Miss Echo, comparing them to Duval's own work. The author closes the chapter with the concept of anonymity and the adoption of pseudonyms, which undoubtedly opened up the employment field in publications more widely to women than by writing under their own names and posits reasons for Duval's adopting more than one pseudonym, as these allowed her to explore different styles of illustration (p. 59).

            In Chapter 3, Waite maps Duval's time on the stage to her cartoons published in Judy. The author looks at Duval's time as an actress, from early appearances, her performances in Charles Ross' lost play Clam, as well as Silence, and The Beggar's Uproar, her time on tour, and in other plays. While she was on tour, she was constantly drawing and publishing, but her comics do not reveal personal details about Duval (p. 75). Waite examines Duval's late acting career and, with a chronology of her life and works, its influences on her cartoons and comics (p. 93). A section is devoted to Duval's involvement in the Such and Such divorce case in 1873 (p. 90). The chapter ends with the notion that there "are no known portraits of Marie Duval" in existence (p. 96). Despite the small amounts of evidence available, Waite provides a good analysis of how Duval's experiences with acting affected her work for Judy.

            In Chapter 4, Sabin considers Duval's children's book, Queens & Kings and Other Things, written under the pseudonym S. A. the Princess Hesse Schwartzbourg. Sabin argues that her "naïve drawing style she had developed at Judy made her a natural choice for a children's book" (p. 101). He also mentions while her name was not included in the creation of the work, her readers could easily recognize her distinct style and would purchase the book. The author discusses the creation and rise of the children's book, as well as the gift book (p. 104). Sabin compares Duval and Edward Lear in terms of their work and how both children and adults appreciated them, the latter's influence on Duval's work, and where the similarities stopped and Duval diverged from Lear, in terms of verse, tone, and art style (p. 109). Sabin then moves on to discuss the content of Queens & Kings and Other Things, Duval's rich illustrations of medieval fashion and royalty, of which could be attributed to her stage work, and how the book was received by the public -- sadly not a roaring success.

            Concluding the section on work, Grennan looks at women and gender in the printing business. He presents a framework for "considering the material conditions, social expectations, opportunities, prohibitions and representations of the type of work in the production of periodical publications" (p. 123). In so doing, Grennan explains that what modern readers may know as the process of creating a comic book involving a penciller, an inker, a colorist and so on, has nothing to do with Duval, who apparently drew directly on the engraving woodblock. Most cartoonists draw on paper, and then the engraver would transfer the illustration, sometimes by gluing the paper to the woodblock and carving through it. He describes general woodblock processes and further discussion of women's employment in printing, including Duval's own work.  

            Part II: Depicting and performing opens with the sixth chapter, Grennan's "The significance of Duval's drawing style." In this, he examines the "surviving public, non-academic commentary on Marie Duval's work from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries" and that it is "brief and easy to summarize" (p. 137). Basically, her art was judged by critics as elementary or downright terrible, and humorless, which Grennan asserts was a result of Victorian sexism and prejudice. The author also examines her parodies of various artworks displayed at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions of 1880 and 1876, and concludes the chapter declaring that Duval "made a living recklessly, by drawing attention to the contradictions of a working life that she shared with her readers, so as to provoke laughter and, in doing so, to sell the next publication, bring on the next comics register and create a new visual culture" (p. 159).

            In Chapter 7, Waite looks at "nineteenth-century theories of acting in relation to visual aspects of the craft" to determine whether there is evidence that Duval's role as an actor influenced her work as a cartoonist (p. 160). Waite analyses resources including unpublished manuscripts and diaries of contemporary performers to Duval and published acting manuals that she and others in the theater either had access to or had knowledge of. He also takes a closer look at her Ally Sloper cartoons as a means to show her own performance as an "imperfect artist" (p. 182-183).   

            In Chapter 8, "Waite continues from Chapter 3 his analysis of the theater, specifically "Victorian spectacle" such as pantomime and special theatrical effects that "involved the manipulation of bodies in a way entirely unrecorded in the usual drawing tropes of the nineteenth century, arising as they did from classical training and fine art models", as an influence on Duval's illustrations (p. 187). There is extensive analysis of transformations scenes and characters in pantomime performances, as well as what the author terms as "flying bodies" and physical performance, such as the extreme physical work of the Hanlon-Lee Brothers and circus and music hall acts, and Duval's incorporating certain elements into her artwork. Waite concludes that, because of Duval's potential access to circus and music hall acts, and participation in acting herself, she may have put her observations to use in her cartoons and  "allowed her to depict the actions and presence of bodies in space through a unique gestural, graphic style that communicates movement" rather than simply relying on the theater manuals and other works available (p. 214).

            In the closing chapter, Sabin examines Duval's comics and cartoons attempting to answer whether she is "a 'women's cartoonist' (p. 216) and looks at other women in the cartooning business and women's magazines as an emerging genre. Sabin notes that because of the lack of primary resources with such information, that "the historical record relating to women is sparse to the point of near invisibility" which he assigns to prejudice. The author discusses the content of Judy, such as fashion, politics, and advertising, and how Duval "fit in" with the publication (p. 222), presenting perhaps why she chose Duval as a penname, her subject matter, and her comedy. 

            Authors Simon Grennan (Leading Research Fellow at the University of Chester), Roger Sabin (Professor of Popular Culture at the University of the Arts London), and Julian Waite  (independent scholar and former Senior Lecturer in Performing Arts and Programme Leader MA Drama at the University of Chester) provide valuable analyses of Marie Duval's works, both as a cartoonist and as an actor on the London stage. They place her firmly in the important tradition of British magazine cartooning. Alongside the text, the authors include a rich selection of Duval's art, as well as of other contemporaries. In creating this volume, Grennan, Sabin, and Waite have created a multidisciplinary text that would be good for comics studies, gender studies, art or theater history, and more. It is also a good resource for those interested in digital humanities and archives, as libraries and special collections are increasingly making such materials accessible by digitizing resources. This text is an excellent example of what scholars can do with digitized collections. The authors mention that comprehensive mapping work has not yet been developed between her stage work and artistic efforts that might provide even more information on this important cartoonist. This book is the first step in mapping Duval's two career paths.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Exhibition in photos: 50 regards at the 50th Angoulême International Comics Festival

50e Angoulême, 50 regards. Sonia Deschamps, Fausto Fasulo and Julian Misserey. Angoulême. Espace Franquin. January 26-29, 2023.


The Angoulême International Comics Festival continued the celebration of its 50th edition with an exhibition of 50 poster-sized images drawn by 50 artists from different countries, generations, and comics traditions. Situated in the main exhibition hall at the Espace Franquin, the images offered a wide variety of illustrative takes that expressed each artists' individual perception, memories and experiences of the festival itself. Arranged in alphabetical order by artist in a right-to-left arrangement starting at the entrance, the images were not accompanied by any captions or identifying information. The only text available for visitors was located on a column in the entrance zone featuring a panel with introductory text from the Festival's artistic directors, and two panels listing all of the participating artists.   

As the introductory text explains, these "regards" (translated as 'views') were left open to the artists to avoid imposing temporal parameters that could have favored a gaze upon the Festival that was historically retrospective or stylistically contemporary. Even the selection of participating artists for this project was wrought with anxiety, as any list would surely be remembered for who was not selected just as much as for who was selected. In the end, a broad variety of artists were chosen so that the biodiversity of international comics (and their relationship to the Festival) could be represented and celebrated. The very internationalism that the Festival is meant to embody was evoked in the first poster drawn by Hugo Pratt for its inaugural edition in 1974 and recalled for this anniversary as the poster image for the exhibition.  


The 50 celebratory images also circulated outside of the Espace Franquin, echoed in several local exhibitions in the regions near Angoulême. As well, the 50 images were also featured as large-scale reproductions in train stations across France during the duration of the Festival. Should a printed souvenir of this exhibition be of interest to the completist collector, all 50 images are reprinted individually and collected in a handsome slipcase book published by the Festival that is available on their online boutique.   

Photos of all 50 images are presented below in the alphabetical order that they appeared in the Espace Franquin, each with a caption identifying its artist.

-Nick Nguyen

All photos taken by Nick Nguyen

Zeina Abirached

Benjamin Adam

Inio Asano

Derf Backderf

Denis Bajram

Conrad Botes


Cholé Cruchaudet

Dorothée de Monfreid

Florence Dupré la Tour

Inés Estrada

Marion Fayolle

Pierre Ferrero

Tom Gauld

Émilie Gleason

Juanjo Guarnido

Anna Haifisch

Juliana Hyrri

Shinichi Ishizuka

Camille Jourdy

Atsushi Kaneko

Joe Kessler

Oriane Lassus

Suehiro Maruo

Hiro Mashima


JL Mast

Pierre Maurel

Maurane Mazars

Anto Metzger

Rutu Modan

Minetaro Mochizuki

José Munoz

Léa Murawiec

Anders Nilsen

Ayako Noda

Sole Otero

John Porcellino

David Prudhomme

Marcello Quintanilha

Trina Robbins

Miroslav Sekulic-Struja

Andrea Serio

Keigo Shinzo

Anne Simon

Julien Solé

Hervé Tanquerelle

Naoki Urasawa

Sansuke Yamada

Masaaki Yuasa

Makoto Yukimu