Fantagraphics Books has signed a deal to release two groundbreaking graphic novels from cult Belgian artist Guy Peellaert (1934-2008): The Adventures of Jodelle (1966) and Pravda (1967). The remastered editions will be produced in collaboration with the late artist’s estate, which will contribute previously unseen material for extensive archival supplements.
Both albums were originally released in France by Eric Losfeld, the controversial publisher who passionately defied censorship in the lead-up to the cultural revolution of 1968; along with Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella, Peellaert’s Jodelle and Pravda were among the earliest of European adult-oriented graphic novels.
The Adventures of Jodelle, whose voluptuous title heroine was modeled after French teen idol Sylvie Vartan, is a satirical spy story set in a Space Age Roman-Empire fantasy world. Its then-revolutionary clashing of high and low culture references, borrowing as much from Renaissance painting as from a fetishized American consumer culture, marked the advent of the Pop movement within the nascent “9th art” of comic books, not yet dignified as “graphic novels” but already a source of great influence in avant-garde artistic circles. Visually, Jodelle was a major aesthetic shock. According to New York magazine, its “lusciously designed, flat color patterns and dizzy forced perspective reminiscent of Matisse and Japanese prints set a new record in comic-strip sophistication.”
Released a year later and first serialized in the French counter-culture bible Hara-Kiri, Pravda follows the surreal travels of an all-female motorcycle gang across a mythical American landscape, led by a mesmerizing cold-blooded heroine whose hyper-sexualized elastic anatomy was this time inspired by quintessential Gallic chanteuse Françoise Hardy. Pravda’s eye-popping graphics pushed the psychedelic edge of Jodelle to dazzling new heights, further liberating the story from narrative conventions to focus the reader’s attention on the stunning composition and glaring acid colors of the strips, with each frame functioning as a stand-alone cinematic picture.
Pravda, with its themes of female empowerment and beauty emerging from chaos, became an instant sensation on the European underground scene, inspiring various tributes and appropriations from the worlds of film, literature, fashion, music, live arts, advertising or graphic design. Over the years, it has acquired a rarefied status as a unique and timeless piece of Pop Art defying categorization or trends, and has found itself exhibited in such unlikely “high culture” institutions as the Musée d’Orsay or the Centre Pompidou. An early admirer of Peellaert’s radical vision—along with luminaries as diverse as Jean-Luc Godard (who optioned the film rights to Pravda) and Mick Jagger — Frederico Fellini praised Jodelle and Pravda as “the literature of intelligence, imagination and romanticism.”
The Adventures of Jodelle was published in the United States in 1967 by Grove Press, whose legendary editor-in-chief Richard Seaver (the man credited with introducing Samuel Beckett, William Burroughs and Henry Miller to America) also provided the translation; Pravda has never been released in English, despite its lead character transcending the long out-of-print book where she originated to become a peculiar iconic figure, the maverick muse of a few “au courant” art and design aficionados from Paris to Tokyo.
Refusing to cash in on the phenomenal success of Jodelle and Pravda (he viewed the former as a one-time graphic “experiment” of which the latter marked the accomplishment) the reclusive Peellaert abruptly left cartoons behind after only two albums at the dawn of the 1970s to pursue an obsessive kind of image-making which painstakingly combined photography, airbrush painting and collage in the pre-computer age. His best-known achievement in America remains the seminal 1973 book Rock Dreams, a collection of portraits which resulted from this distinctive technique and was hailed as “the Sistine Chapel of the Seventies” by Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, eventually selling over a million copies worldwide, influencing a generation of photographers and earning its place in the pantheon of rock culture. Other well-known creations include the iconic artwork for David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album cover (1974) as well as The Rolling Stones’ It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll the same year. Peellaert also created the indelible original poster for Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver (1978), the first of many commissions from renowned auteurs including Wim Wenders, Robert Altman, Stephen Frears, Alain Resnais and Robert Bresson.
As the original negatives and color separations for Jodelle and Pravda are long lost (interestingly, Peellaert never reclaimed the original ink-on-paper pages from Losfeld) Fantagraphics will be re-coloring both books digitally. “The original Books were colored via hand-cut separations from Peellaert’s detailed color indications,” said Fantagraphics co-publisher Kim Thompson, who will be editing and translating the new editions. “Since the Losfeld editions were printed quite well and Peellaert’s linework is thick and simple, we’re going to be able to generate crisp black-and-white versions of the line art to start from which should duplicate the original ‘look’ exactly. Although actually our edition of Pravda should be better than the original, which had some pretty erratic color registration.”
The Adventures of Jodelle is scheduled for release in May 2012, and Pravda in November 2012, both in deluxe oversized hardcover editions. Each will feature an extensive original essay discussing the works and their historical context, accompanied by numerous archival illustrations and photographs.
“I am terrifically excited to bring these two landmark books to American audiences especially Pravda, which has never been published in English,” said Thompson. “They are some of the most graphically jaw-dropping comics ever put to paper. They remain both quintessentially 1960s in attitude and look, and utterly timeless.”