Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“The bandes dessinees represent a special kind of humor which targets adults”

A conversation with French graphic novelist Jul
3 October, 2017 - 11:02
JULIEN BERJEAUT

At home in France, Julien Berjeaut is primarily known under the pseudonym “Jul,” which he uses to sign his bandes dessinees (illustrated stories). Recently, Ukrainians learned more about his work as well. At the 24th Publishers Forum in Lviv, the French graphic novelist was invited as a special guest.

“Lviv is a metaphor of city, because many different influences have intersected within it. I am like that city, because I also have a lot of influences and spheres of activity inside me. However, my main job is making bandes dessinees,” Jul told me about himself in a joking and smiling manner during our first encounter. The Frenchman noted that he had come to Lviv in particular to popularize the genre in which he works. He was assisted in this endeavor by the French Institute in Ukraine.

Jul’s creative portfolio is considerable. The most famous of his series of albums is Silex and the City, which has been around for eight years. In this project, Jul acts as illustrator and scriptwriter. These stories tell about the life and adventures of one family which lived in 40,000 BC. However, the issues raised in these works relate to modern life itself. Interestingly, the features of prehistoric times somewhat resemble the stylistics of the famous animated series about the Flintstone family. “And my most recent victory is that I am now officially the scriptwriter for a series of albums about Lucky Luke,” Jul said. “This is one of the most famous classical series in France. The protagonist of these stories has existed for over 70 years!”

Comics, graphic novels, and stories... What differentiates them from the bandes dessinees? Comics are, first of all, an American tradition, while bandes dessinees are a Franco-Belgian one. The French and the Belgians are keen to emphasize that for them this genre involves more than simple stories to laugh at, but is a larger artwork with more serious subtext.

Jul told The Day about French bandes dessinees in more detail during an interview.

“IF THE AUTHOR IS A PROFESSIONAL, THEY FEEL WHERE THE LIMITS ARE”

 How did you feel about your invitation to the Forum?

“While working as a reporter and making drawings for periodicals, I had been to Ukraine several times before, but this was my first time in this region, so it was very interesting to me and I readily agreed to come to the Forum. I am not yet really acquainted with Ukrainian authors and publishers. I am gradually approaching this region, because a book of mine has recently been translated into Polish. However, it is extremely interesting for me to get acquainted with Ukraine better. I aim for more Ukrainians to learn about the French context of such a special form of art as the bandes dessinees. I work in this genre and I want it to become closer to Ukraine. These stories represent a special kind of humor which targets adults, these works are full of critical satire castigating politicians and society in general.”

 What does this genre mean to you? How is it developing in France?

“I have been reading bandes dessinees since I was a young child. I did not distinguish them from classical literature. I also considered and continue to consider an album with bandes dessinees and a book with texts equally interesting and valuable. For me, bandes dessinees are a combination of literature and cinema. The breakdown into frames creates a dynamics and modernizes a narrative as it becomes reminiscent of a film. In France, this genre is not just a part of children’s literature. It is actually very popular with all sections of the population: from youngsters to seniors, from the general public to the most refined intellectuals. This, as the French say, is the ninth form of art, and it has great traditions and does well in France, accounting for roughly 12 percent of the book market, which is a very important segment of it.”

 How to make this genre popular in Ukraine?

“I think the best ‘ambassador’ for the bandes dessinees is the cinema. For example, characters of the Asterix and Obelix series are now enjoying enormous popularity in many countries precisely thanks to the films starring Gerard Depardieu. Everyone first got acquainted with the stories themselves, and subsequently became interested in reading them. Films based on bandes dessinees can spark interest in the original sources.”

How does satire evolve in art? How effective satire in the format of bandes dessinees is in influencing the modern reader?

“Of course, it does not affect real events in the world (laughs). However, there is no doubt that it influences some people’s views. Importantly, it affects both the reader and the author. Satire allows you to stand back from what you tell and read to some extent. By doing this, you become freer, and this applies to both the author and the reader. Today, satire is actively developing and inventing new interesting forms not only in the bandes dessinees genre, but also in the cinema and on TV.”

 Is not satire growing increasingly vulgar over time? Where are the limits? Where a satirist should stop to avoid switching to banal images?

“Satire needs to avoid becoming banal. All forms of art need genuine creativity. Having genuinely creative ideas is the only safeguard against vulgarization. Each author has a kind of antennae, like those of an insect, with which they feel the limits of what is acceptable and appropriate in a product. If the author is a professional, they will feel where the limits are, both in satire and otherwise.”

“I PREVIOUSLY KNEW LVIV FROM FICTION WORKS”

 What projects in the genre of bandes dessinees are you working on now? What are your plans for the future?

“I am currently working on a new series of bandes dessinees which is called 50 Shades of the Greeks. I want to try and put all the gods and heroes of Greek mythology in everyday situations of the present. For example, Hercules, who has to carry out his 12 labors according to the myth, will not do this because he will be unemployed and look for a job. Daedalus will rebuild his Labyrinth because it does not meet the standards for people with disabilities. Meanwhile, Icarus will be launching a low-cost airline. This is about my ongoing projects. Regarding the plans, I intend to acquire a new experience and work in the film industry.”

 By the way, how do you feel about Lviv?

“I previously knew Lviv from fiction works alone. It was interesting to see and explore it. It seems to me that it is a kind of Jerusalem in miniature. Lviv reminds it because it is also a great crossroads of cultures. Besides, when I heard from the mayor of Lviv during the opening of the Publishers’ Forum that the city administration granted scholarships for authors who would come to Lviv and write about this city, I gave it a serious thought (laughs).”

 And finally, when will we be able to read Jul’s works in Ukrainian at last?

“I hope that it will not take too long. Perhaps Kyrylo Horishnyi and the Leopol Publishing House will do something about it, or another publisher will take interest. I hope this will happen soon.”

By Dmytro PLAKHTA, The Day, Lviv
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