Sunday, June 01, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #151: The Sky Over the Louvre by Yslaire & Carriere

You can make art about art. You can make art that incorporates other art within it. You can make art about the conflicts of art with politics, about art in a dangerous time, about art with an ulterior motive. But, above all, you must make your art mean something: if you tell a story, it must start from somewhere and lead somewhere.

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

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