I’m sitting at the breakfast table one beautiful spring morning when I start cursing in some incoherent mixture of French and English: fuck! Mais c’est pas possible ! Bordel de cul ! No!!! What had happened: I was reading a comic book, and the ending touched me, deeply. A comic book. A COMIC BOOK. I read Céline, and he mostly makes me laugh; I read Jean Genet, and he makes me laugh even more; reading Les liaisons dangereuses, I often shut the book just to let the beauty of a sentence that I had just read sink in. But, what led me to break out in inarticulate multilingual shouts of rage and sadness was a comic book. A fucking COMIC BOOK.
I’m hanging out in a bookstore not far from my little deux-piece (a two-room apartment, very common in Paris). I’m browsing through a book, and all of a sudden I have to put it down and dash to a quiet, hidden corner of the store, where I burst into sobs. (For context: I am an American male in his 50s, and American men of my generation do not, not, not cry.) What caused this sudden storm of emotion: a comic book. A comic book. A fucking COMIC BOOK.
Comic books–les bandes dessinées–are considered literature in France, like any other high-brow written form. It’s not unusual to see men and women in business suits or stereotypically academic clothes (which is to say, blue jeans and a backpack full of journal articles on math or literature) reading one on the train on the way to work in the morning, and comic books can get literary prizes just like anything else. The series that had me screaming over my breakfast was this one by Peru and Cholet:
My Uncle John immigrated to the US from the UK as a young man and promptly joined the Army, which sent him to Korea. Before he died, some oral history project sent someone to interview him about the experience, and we learned things that he had never, ever talked about, like the time that he had to pile up a couple bodies of his dead pals so that he could shelter behind them while he shot at the North Koreans (or Chinese, or whoever it was that was actually behind the triggers on the other side). When I was a little tike, he made me solemnly swear to never read a comic book. I still feel a little guilty every time I pick one up–I feel exempt from fulfilling that particular oath, since I made it as a small child, but as an adult, I take promises super-seriously, and rarely make them. Hopefully, the quality–and power–of this particular one takes it out of the realm of the kinds of comic books that Uncle John was talking about. Yes: I was moved to rage and sadness by a comic book. A comic book. A fucking COMIC BOOK.
To my surprise, I notice that this is the 500th post on the Zipf’s Law blog. It’s super-amazing to me that this thing that started out as a way to publicize information about the judo clubs of Paris, and then evolved into a way to keep my family and friends up to date on Parisian adventures that were too long for Facebook posts, has become something else entirely, with as of today, more than 45,000 page views and just under 28,000 visits. I thank Ellen Epstein for suggesting the blog in the first place, and all of you who comment on the posts–you give me the positive feedback of knowing that someone out there listens to what I say, and the helpful guidance of pointing out my errors in French, explaining French history and culture to me, and the like. Even beyond the relief of getting the shit that grouille dans ma tête out of it and “on the page,” you folks who leave comments make this an enriching experience for me. Thank you again.
tike/tyke: a small child. “When I was a little tike” is a common way of introducing something that you’re going to say about your early childhood.
la bande dessinée : comic book, graphic novel.