Haunted by Phillipe Dupuy

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Haunted
By Phillipe Dupuy
Drawn & Quarterly

Phillipe DupuyUttered to your average American comics fan—even those well versed in the ways of the indie publishing salt mines—the name Philipe Dupuy will invoke, at best, a blank stare. It’s a shame, to be sure, but all in all, not too altogether surprising.

Like nearly every other frontier of American culture, popular or otherwise, the output of the rest of the world is largely ignored, or brushed aside into some specialty section. Perhaps it’s the lack of titles that actually make it to our comic store shelves, or maybe it’s just an embarrassment of riches, with foreign artist buried beneath the deluges of their homegrown counterparts.

Whatever the case may be, artists like Dupuy don’t suffer the same manner of indifference in their home countries. In fact, the artist, along with his long time collaborator, Charles Berberian, was awarded 2008’s prestigious Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême, putting them in such company as Robert Crumb and Will Eisner, helping establish them as the rightful heirs to France’s rich cartooning history.

The two artists have been collaborating for more than 20 years, producing, most notably, the long running Monsieur Jean, which has since become one of the most beloved series in contemporary French comics. That the artists collaborate in every step on the process, including stories, layouts, pencils, and inks, has lead to a good deal of speculations as to the individual talents of both parties. Released by Drawn & Quarterly in 2006, Maybe Later offered a unique glimpse into the individual talents of both artists, featuring a series of vignettes written seperately by Dupuy and Berberian.

The book’s follow up, Haunted, marks a further shift, with Dupuy completely on his own, this time out. The art contained in the volume is decidedly more rough than that what was on display in Maybe Later, with layouts that seem to have been virtually untouched since first being scrawled in the pages of the artist’s sketchbook. Visually, the work lacks a good deal of the polished charm that has made the duo’s collaborations so immediately accessible to international audience. One almost immediately gets the feeling, however, that, like his temporary flirtation with the solo life, Dupuy’s momentary abandonment of production values has afforded him a newfound level of freedom.

The resulting strips flow with a reckless abandon that feels as if Dupuy has abandoned the concept of scripting altogether, instead opting to see where each subsequent panel will take him. The stories pulse with a dreamlike logic, alternatively light and dark, broaching levels of the artist’s subconscious in a way that would seem woefully out of place in a thoughtfully scripted work like Monsieur Jean, as if Dupuy had written each individual story at the night table of his bed, still groggy from a deep sleep.

For those unfamiliar with the work of Dupuy and Berberian would do better to pick up a book like Get a Life, which showcases the duo at the height of their collaborative powers. For those seeking further insight into the artists, however, works don’t come much closer to unraveling the psyche of their creators than Haunted.

–Brian Heater

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