Dirty Dishes Dish The Dirt
In an act of mock hubris, not only has the French graphic novelist Killoffer put his own name into the title of his book, but he also trumpets the excessive number of times he appears within only 48 pages.
Anyone writing a conventional prose novel about himself in the first person might find it hard to avoid repeating the words “me”, “myself” and “I”. When it comes to crafting an equivalent graphic novel, cartoonists have to illustrate numerous likenesses as well, showing themselves inside one panel, then the next, over and over. As a result, autobiography in comics can sometimes resemble a self-portrait gallery - exhibitionist, perhaps narcissistic, or self-deprecating, even self-flagellating, and in Killoffer’s case all these at once.
Killoffer’s large-format graphic novel from 2002 is building on other cartoonists’ 30-year legacy of writing and drawing uncomfortable truths about themselves in comics. This approach first became feasible in America only when a Sixties generation of underground rebels broke free from tame family-friendly newspaper strips and juvenile comic books.
Across the Channel, autobiography is a more recent arrival in France’s vibrant culture of bande dessinée albums, signalled by the recent success of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and David B’s Epileptic. Both of these riveting memoirs were originally released in French by L’Association, a Parisian collective founded by Killoffer and five other auteurs in 1990 to revolutionise the contents and formats of the conventional full-colour, hardback, Asterix-style album. This graphic novel could not be more different. What started life as an “official” commission for reportage about Killoffer’s visit to Montreal turns into a tortured rant about his desire for the local babes and then a silent nightmare about the mountain of washing-up that he left in Paris spawning a welter of girl-chasing Killoffer clones running amok. With the clear-line precision of Hergé, our author caricatures himself in unflattering detail as a swarthy, unkempt, laddish Lothario, a self-described “low-down slacker".
It’s not long, however, before his ego trip becomes even stranger and the voiceover disappears, leaving only the increasingly disturbing images to unfold the story wordlessly. Killoffer wakes up to find three smug duplicates of himself, each with a woman he fancied, who then proceed to brawl with one another after their partners walk out on them. When he awakes again the next morning, he finds his boorish doubles are still there, one naked in his bed, another crashed out on the sofa.
Bribing these chaotic alter egos to leave is no solution. He only meets more of the sick photostats of himself outside, in a bar getting drunk, beating up a bouncer, or assaulting a woman. His final solution is to make this cult of self commit a Jonestown-type multiple suicide by drinking a spectacularly emetic stew, and in the last resort, by carving them up slasher-style with a knife and fork.
At last, only one remains, the true original, the triumphant but bilious superego who has annihilated hordes of his out-of-control ids. Quite what inner demons Killoffer is exorcising here is left unspoken, but this graphic tour de force is one man’s messy, macabre and ultimately exultant confrontation with deep self-disgust and towering vanity.
Posted: January 28, 2007
The original version of this article appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 15 January 2006.