Friday, March 17, 2023

The Perineum Technique by Ruppert & Mulot

Florent Ruppert and Jerome Melot, as I understand it, work together a lot. [1] But they are not a team; they keep separate credits rather than becoming some single-named entity calling itself something like "Meluppert." They also both write and both draw; I've only seen short breezy descriptions of how they work together with no more detail than that, but that is always mentioned: they both do both.

Writing together is uncontroversial; lots of people have done that inside and outside comics for centuries. Drawing story pages is more complex - there's thumbnails and finishes, or pencils and inks, or Marvel-style, or a newspaper-strip style "you do the backgrounds," or even oddities like "I'm no good at hands, you do all the hands."

However they do it, they do do it. They've published a number of stories together over the past nearly two decades. Actually, that raises the further question: has their collaboration changed radically at any time? Would we ever know?

The Perineum Technique is a 2014 bandee desinee translated by Jessie Aufiery and published in the US by Fantagraphics in 2019. It's a love story, or maybe a sex story - a modern one, of two modern people in Paris, probably about thirty. They're both in modern occupations, and their relationship is mediated by technology. They're old enough to know what they're doing and young enough to be unsure what they want.

He's JH. She's Sarah. They met on a dating app, and have been masturbating together, joined by webcam, at least daily for about a week. He'd now like to meet, to maybe turn this - whatever this is - into something more conventional. She doesn't.

He's our viewpoint; she's more distant, less knowable. (Insert clich√© about women in a book about sex created by men: you probably know all of them as well as I do.) She says she's worried he'll turn out to be violent or unpleasant, but we also think she might just be happy with this and not really willing to give it up for something entirely different and more conventional.

Not that either of them are that conventional. JH is a video artist, preparing for his new show. Many of the sequences of this book are either staged as those videos, or were the inspiration for those videos - there are visuals here that are clearly impossible, either metaphorical or representing an inner landscape. There are other sequences that are not exactly what happened "in real life," too - multiple potential answers to a question, conversations that continue after one person leaves, characters whose clothing changes from panel to panel. Perineum Technique could be described as taking place primarily in JH's head - I don't think that's true, but it's an interesting, plausible description.

That visual inventiveness begins on the very first page, before we even know what the story is. It's baked in: we see all of this story through JH's artistic eye. And I suppose we are meant to understand that this relationship with Sarah has rejuvenated and transformed his art - though JH does say, near the end, that the transformation may not be the best thing for his career, that his regular buyers may not be interested in his new work.

But that's the thing about art, and about sex: not everyone is interested in the same things. And the ones who like the things you like, the ones who understand what you want and care about, are always the most important.

That's why JH chases Sarah: he's pretty sure she gets him, and think he gets her. But she makes him jump through hoops to pursue an IRL relationship - they first meet at a swingers party, for example. And the title refers to using pelvic-floor exercises to, as Sarah puts it, "[stop] your ejaculation, but you still have an orgasm." She demands he do that, exclusively, for at least two months before seeing her again.

Maybe that's the source of the crazy imagery that inspires JH's new work: he's weirdly sexually frustrated, and obsessed with Sarah.

They do meet again, at the end of that several-month period. They do get together, to some degree. The technique is a success. Whether the relationship is a success is a bigger question, and not one this story will answer. But they seem to have both been inspired for their creative work, and they both seem to be energized and ready to move forward, and I have to count that as a happy ending.

Heh. Pun not intended.

[1] They're also both men, which should be unsurprising to people who know French names but may be odd to people who know them from the very female centric caper series (with Bastien Vives) starting with The Grand Odalisque.

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