Sunday, June 01, 2014
The graphic novel The Sky Over the Louvre -- one of a series of very separate stories done in partnership with the famed Louvre museum and a world-wide network of publishers in several languages -- tries to pull a story out of the first revolutionary year, focusing on the painter David and his struggles to paint both a portrait of the young man Bara -- a martyr to the Revolution, or billed as one -- and one of the Supreme Being as seen by Maximilien Robespierre. That story is told by the comics creator Bernar Yslaire (original concept, co-script, all art and construction) and the screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere (co-script), in glancing chapters that never get far into David's head and leave the whole process opaque and entirely seen from outside.
The Terror is raging -- half of the characters in this book fall to the guillotine before the end -- but no one seems to be terrified by it. One major character -- a young teen who calls himself Jules Stern and claims to be from a nonexistent country on the Black Sea -- is clearly mentally ill, though the book doesn't investigate that at all. Everyone else's disregard of their own safety and well-being could be seen as mad as well: it was a mad time, a mad people, a mad age.
David and Robespierre -- typically, The Sky Over the Louvre distances itself from him by referring to him as "The Incorruptible," as it distances itself from everything it shows -- work and talk and debate and meet at dinner parties over the course of this short, spare graphic novel -- never quite agreeing but never exactly arguing. They talk around things in revolutionary language, but Yslaire and Carriere never present this as diversionary or masking: it's just how they talk, as if all of the characters are masks and their true faces can never be known.
The Sky Over the Louvre is gorgeous: Yslaire incorporates dozens of classic paintings directly into his pages brilliantly, making his mostly pen-and-ink figures into the real life mirrored and amplified into Art that is greater than the reality. It's a pity the story doesn't live up to the visuals.
Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index