You Are There by Jacques Tardi & Jean-Claude Forest

You Are There
by Jacques Tardi & Jean-Claude Forest
Fantagraphics, 2009

This album was influential in the development of the French graphic novel when it was published thirty years ago as Ici Même, and some of the publicity breathlessly speculates on what might’ve been if it had been available in English sooner. Well, we’ll never know, will we? Certainly if its equal were published in New Zealand, it would sink without a trace. Just as in real estate, location plays a big role in the international success of a graphic novel, as the many okay-but-inferior-to-unpublishable-local-works in Central Library demonstrate.

An absurdist fantasy with strong elements of political and social satire, You Are There recounts the pitiful plight of Arthur There, doorkeeper in reduced circumstances to the land of Mornemont. He literally lives on top of the high walls which subdivide the district, racing around on foot to unlock gates and extract a 20 centime toll from the smug residents who have gobbled up his ancestral land. This personality type is a descendent of the unpleasant idle class of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time*, and will be familiar to anyone who lunches in certain Wellington circles. There’s shabby life changes when the French government discovers that Mornemont is an independent sovereign state. Our clueless hero is also tormented by the only major female character, the pretty but doleful Julie, who is prone to long monologising, and although she is the most observant person around, her characterisation suffers from being sexually objectified by pretty much every other character in the book.

So, the writing and conception are impressive, and Tardi’s art is typically glorious and surreal. It looks like a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film, and would be of interest to anyone who grew up with Asterix and Tintin and prefers the atmospheric and character-driven style of adult European albums to the cinematic and genre-driven style of American comic books.

*Ha! See what I did there? Good investment, Proust, like Joyce, you only have to read him once and then you can throw him casually into conversation for the rest of your life.

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