It’s not surprising, but then it’s totally surprising that Paysage après la bataille was awarded the best comic of the year prize in 2016 at the Angoulême International Comics Festival.
It’s not surprising, as both Belgian artists – illustrator, Eric Lambé and author, Philippe de Pierpont – present a story that is a genuine masterpiece. Then again, it’s a total surprise because this Landscape After the Battle is more unusual, eccentric and challenging than the conventional Angoulême award winners.
Fany is sitting in the taxi. Her destination is a remote camping site. The season is over, and only a few people are spending the winter in the rows of neatly aligned caravans – they have nowhere else to go: a retired couple, a retired boxer and huntsman and the camping attendant who is not very bright and dreams of travelling the world.
Fany seems to have sought out this emptiness, remoteness from the world and loneliness. We find out why, slowly and steadily, over 420 pages. The subject – without giving too much away – is the loss of a child.
Paysage après la bataille is very calm. Few words are spoken and nothing is said for long periods. The images also focus on emptiness: Lambé’s illustrations are reduced, stylized; the black-and-white ink strokes are fine and fragile; the various grey tones give the images perspective and depth. Now and then, an additional colour note makes the page brighten up.
Although there is little text, one soon senses that Lambé and Pierpont accentuate the big themes in their novel: life’s fragmentary nature, death, grief and suppression, silence and escape – and the tentative attempt to make a new beginning. Lambé and de Pierpont convey this with hints and allusions, which leave the reader plenty of scope, while also demanding his or her involvement.
Winter arrives; the world outside the camping site dissolves into white and grey. Yet Fany doesn’t quite manage to keep herself to herself. In the secluded and oppressing isolation of this forgotten location relationships, tensions and intimacies subtly evolve among the characters. The past and the outside world are never that faraway, and even the iciest winter ends.
By Christian Gasser
Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright
Eric Lambé/Philippe de Pierpont, Paysage après la bataille, Actes Sud BD/FRMK, 420 pages, Hardcover, 29.00 euros