Read Any Good Boucq's Lately?
A Poirot-like dapper detective in The Magician’s Wife put it well: "People aren’t really like the image they try to project… they ignore their own mystery." People, and things, are frequently not what they seem in the unnervingly skewed observations of French comics creator François Boucq.
Boucq (rhymes with Luke) always had a fascination with blurring the borders between the everyday and the extraordinary that can lurk beneath the surface. He started in illustration by caricaturing the true faces of politicians and celebs. He also contributed behind the scenes to the theatre and designed huge-headed figures for the street carnival in his hometown of Lille. What better medium than bande dessinée for him to combine his flights of imagination and masterful draughtsmanship.
His debut comedy skits, all black and white strips written by others, got him noticed. This led in 1983 to the B.D. monthly A Suivre asking him to write short stories of his own in colour. To free himself from recurring characters and formulas, Boucq set himself the challenge of starting each yarn afresh and pursuing a different bizarre situation to its absurd conclusion. In his artwork, he introduced gloriously vibrant washes of coloured inks to heighten the vivid details of his line drawings and to instil each tale with a different narrative atmosphere.
His taste for the grotesque and the philosophical resulted in some unforgettable Pythonesque scenarios. A mama’s boy hooked on war stories is taken hostage in his home by enemy troops after those ‘little cups of yogurt with real fruit at the bottom’, only to be rescued by his machine gun-toting mother. For a devout nun, the aisles of a supermarket turn into a gauntlet of temptations fought over between her angelic and devilish sides.
Boucq also sends up the wildlife documentary in several examples, from the bizarre egg-laying habits of turtles on crowded beaches to the nocturnal activities of construction machinery building a Metro station on the Savannah. Check out these and other shorts in English in Heavy Metal magazines and the collection Pioneers Of The Human Adventure (Catalan Communications, 1989).
Out of these one-offs emerged Boucq’s single continuing character, the small but heroic door-to-door insurance salesman Jérôme Moucherot. For him, life is truly a jungle out there. The journey to work is bad enough, dodging pterodactyls, crocodiles and cannibal punks. Somehow he battles through the day, sporting his leopard-spotted yellow suit, hat and tie, his zebra-striped briefcase and a fountain pen through his nose.
Amidst all this activity, Boucq stretched himself still further in A Suivre by collaborating on his first full-length graphic novel and developing for it a more serious and realistic style. The writer was new to the medium. Jerome Charyn, son of Jewish emigrés from Russia and Poland, was born and raised in the Bronx. He had learnt to read from Barks’s Donald Duck and Beck’s Captain Marvel and discovered literature through Classics Illustrated. Charyn grew up to be an English professor and writer of unconventional crime novels and surreal urban fables. His passion for comics was revived in Paris by his discovery of adult B.D. albums. For his first try at writing one, Charyn re-worked an abandoned novel, which Boucq then interpreted into comics.
The result was the unsettling love story The Magician’s Wife (Catalan/Titan, 1987). Edmund, an ambitious young illusionist, as white-haired and pink-eyed as the rabbits in his hat, has had his eye on Rita since she was a girl. Edmund begins by seducing Rita’s mother, the housekeeper, into running off with him and her daughter and forming his magic act. But all the while he is also manipulating Rita into taking her ageing mother’s place on stage as well as becoming his young bride.
What he has not reckoned with is his mind games sparking Rita’s rage and unleashing the werewolf within. She flees and tries to lose herself in New York, but she cannot escape her curse or being haunted by Edmund. Boucq’s new realism is stunningly convincing, shifting from sprawling mansions and seedy tenements to shimmering dreamscapes and a surreal showdown. Rita returns to find Edmund enslaved, but her kiss rekindles his powers. Together they can make magic.
In Billy Budd, KGB (Catalan, 1991), a Ukrainian orphan with a harelip is recruited into the Russian secret service. Given corrective surgery and a forged passport, Budd has to assume a double life in New York. In secret, he’s an undercover agent prized for his nightmare premonitions; in public, he’s a construction worker on skyscrapers. When he saves the life of a Native American worker, he builds a bond with the man’s chief. He introduces Budd to a different path to Communism or the American dream. But can Budd escape his masters? Charyn and Boucq weave together a Cold War psycho-thriller with one man’s quest for spiritual truth.
After this, the two of them went their own ways. Since 1991 Boucq has taken to collaborating with Chilean-born film-maker Alexandro Jodorowsky, famed for his weird Western El Topo. Their latest series Bouncer (Humanoids Publishing) marks Jodorowsky’s return to the genre. One loveless family’s greed for a diamond drives a mother to suicide, her three sons against each other, and one young grandson to swear vengeance for his parents’ slaughter. The third brother, now a one-armed bouncer, undertakes to train the boy to kill, in return for being his right arm. Jodorowsky is in his element again and whether in widescreen landscapes or saloon shootouts, Boucq’s art has never looked so gritty and visceral. Their twisted Western looks set to get darker still.
Posted: March 5, 2006
The original version of this article appeared in 2003 in the pages of Comics International, the UK’s leading magazine about comics.