Thoughts an' prayers! What follows is an exegesis - or more precisely: the art of exegazing. If you, like French dessinateur L. L. de Mars, have created comics like Jack Kirby walked through broken porticoes (Adverse, 2016), like Tarzan, Seigneur des signes (Éditions Rackham, 2017), you're most likely familiar with man-gods striding amidst mere mortals, or apes.
De Mars overcame death with Sous les bombes sans la guerre (Éditions Tanibis, 2017), by appropriating the emblematic protagonist of the French Communist Party's top comic, Pif le chien—who gave his name to the children's magazine Pif Gadget—as a canine combatant down in the death throes of anti-capitalist societies, projected onto the last lingering sigh of his agonized forefather, the cartoon canine Top. Imagine doing this to Rex the Wonder Dog and realize a momentary epiphany while falling from a great height.
This steep drop is not only from the ideals of politics and humor, or humanity, but also the enormous heights the circulation figures of Pif Gadget had reached: 1,000,000 copies weekly during its heyday in the 1970s, still unparalleled in Europe until now. As those numbers dwindled considerably in the 1990s, perfectly choreographed to the Soviet Union's downfall, a former business advantage enjoyed by the magazine became an enormous backlash, since Pif Gadget was among the few western publications allowed to publish in most of the member states of the Warsaw Pact, i.e., middle-income countries, an important point in selling comics. All of this was owed to the magazine's leftist roots.
And just as religion is still considered an opiate for the masses by a not-so-small number among the left, so are comics: a lower form of an escape~y dream for the working classes, tacky in its rampant sledgehammer approach, especially in the heroic style.
Which leads us to L. L. de Mars' latest cape~r, Commentaires sur les sentences de Pierre Lombard. Its composition, according to the artist's spokesperson, and presumably his publisher, is drawn from two "matrices": the virgin with child, a fundamental motif across centuries of painting, a scene instituting the major event of Christianity, the incarnation; and, in opposition, "le paysage," images of a world barely touched by time, without anything happening. With this experiment in comics, an accompanying essay comments on the Sentences of Pierre Lombard, which commented on sentences from the Bible. Or, as it's said in the afterword by de Mars: "Un commentaire sur les commentaires, sur le fait même de commenter." A comment on comments, on the very fact of commenting, which works well as a statement on today's feedback culture gone awry, intended or not.
A comment is not dissimilar to a Gadget, a free giveaway. The kinship of comics and religious stories lies in encouraging faith, against all odds, by applying the common touch. Stained glass windows for example, framing one's beliefs like a panel bowing to some notion of God, the original author*ess. Mother*father of all, 1/3 of the Holy Trinity.
But who was their worldly ambassador, Pierre Lombard? Known to Anglo-Americans as Peter (the) Lombard, dude rose to fame for writing the Four Books of Sentences around 1150, which gathered together takes–some hotter, others notter–on excerpts from the holy book. Comments. Breaking things down very simply to *rationalize clerical tenets by philosophical means*, okay?
That's exactly the visual texture striven for by L. L. de Mars. With its constant reiteration of the same subject, one person caressingly held by another, sparsely varied from panel to panel, the laborious effort of building your own think tank to steamroll all those who came before you, like Thomas Aquinas, becomes plastically picturesque. A continuous labor of love, taped, repainted and whited-out; the pilgrim's progress, if you will. There's beauty in making the audience gasp, mouths sucking for more so that no one has to feel like a motherless child. Breastfeeding is shown several times in this book, during a monologue on perpetual adoration of the elements, foremost (Mother) earth and water.
As for the second of the matrices, the untouched landscape is probably on par with Jesusmother and child when it comes to the most depicted scenes in art history, not to mention the perpetual virginity of both. Literally above it all are angelic figures and statues - that whole cosmos of art defining eras and mindscapes. This is all drawn at its most skillful, the Michaelangelic ways shining through in the otherwise Mucha-influenced drawing style a Barry Windsor-Smith would prefer, if you're into such comparisons.
De Mars mentions getting lost in the wrinkles of his drawings, and urgently recommends his readers find their own paths in these still-unexplored territories. I wish every commandment or counselor's guide would be that generous, and probably this is the whole intention behind Commentaires sur les sentences de Pierre Lombard, if you're viewing it in a figuratively straight sense. Finally: a declaration of not getting lost in competing statements being hammered out every other day, but trusting your eyes when recognizing true art, leading you to new insights. Which is the case here.