L'Association, $65, 2048 pp.
One good way to introduce a friend to the anthology Comix 2000 is to drop it on their desk. Since the titular two grand refers to the page count as well as the date, C2K lands not with the pathetic "plap" of a pamphlet, but the satisfying "whump" of a dictionary. To get closer to what makes this book unique, though, try this Sphinxian line on your pal: "I’ve just read a 2000-page book with no words."
324 artists from 29 countries contributed to Comix 2000, employing a heady array of graphic techniques to tell their stories: smoky pencil and nervous scratchboard drawings, rich gray washes, bizarre collages, computer art and every combination of pen, brush and ink. They use virtually no dialogue, captions or onomatopoeia, however: only the special grammar of comics – part synesthesia, part subliminal understanding – by which we deduce sound, pace, movement and time from a series of static images. This form of reading, fortunately for C2K’s French publishers, doesn’t need translating for an international audience.
The assignment was to comment on the last hundred years, and these cartoonists respond with stories ranging from the allegorical to the intimate. In Frédéric Boilet’s strip, a Japanese woman ceremoniously displays photos of smiling people: a toothpaste ad, Anne Frank, a child maimed by a land mine, the pilot of the Enola Gay. Verron and Chric depict a rusting ship labeled "XX" sailing away with a load of despots, fat cats and a bomb-juggling Reaper, but it’s replaced by a shiny cruiser marked "XXI" that disgorges the same crew. Marc-Antoine Mathieu is more optimistic: The monstrous embodiment of the 20th century chases a rapidly aging man to the edge of a chasm, then gingerly helps him across to the virgin, rejuvenating landscape of the new millennium.
Some of the artists play with genre and form. Thomas Ott makes a simple gag about a roach motel into an expressionistic nightmare. Michaël Sterckeman borrows the iconography of cassette players to suggest the pacing of his slice-of-life tale, while Toüis turns the quest to get laid into a surreal "Road Runner" cartoon, equal parts Salvador Dali and Chuck Jones.
For others, wordlessness itself is the theme. In Dylan Horrocks’ Holocaust story, the words have actually been stripped from their balloons. The pages fragment as the comic proceeds, until nothing remains but a torn scrap and a scrawl. In Stéphane Blanquet’s world, mouths are birth defects; but when an afflicted boy breaks into beautiful song, others have mouths surgically installed and start crooning themselves – with less melodious results.
Many strips are just plain wonderful. The sick cat in Simon Bossé’s comic turns out to have a demon up its ass. Emanuel Guibert’s jet-set couple light their cigarettes with the sun. A girl rescues a cicada from a spider, then has a run-in with their spirit world counterparts in Kazuishi Hanawa’s gorgeously rendered tale.
Its steep price may discourage some, but this anthology’s appeal transcends the rarefied comics scene. For lovers of edgy humor, adventurous graphics and poetic observations on Life and All That, Comics 2000 is the bargain of the century.E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org