The French comics publishing house Humanoids is primarily known in America for its interplanetary science fiction action adventures, as its robotic name might suggest. But back in March, it announced a new imprint, “Life Drawn,” dealing with “personal stories and provocative, political narratives” on a… well, a human scale.
True-life comic book chronicles tend to be drab affairs, visually. All too often, our eyes slosh through page after page of amateurish, unimaginative, uninspired drawings. (Though there are exceptions.) But Life Drawn has set its sights higher, judging from such releases as Nancy Peña’s Madame Cat and Clément Baloup and Pierre Daum’s Vietnamese Memories series.
Most graphically impressive among Humanoids’ lineup so far are a couple of movie star bios: Marilyn’s Monsters and Hedy Lamarr: An Incredible Life. Both books set high standards of artistic innovation that will, we should hope, carry on through this year. Meanwhile, let me introduce you to these two celebrities and their creators.
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writer/artist: Tommy Redolfi
Tommy Redolfi has skillfully created a hypnotic, haunting, and heartbreaking mood portrait of mid-century America’s favorite silver screen starlet. His loose linework recalls Harvey Kurtzman’s sketchy cartooning. His tonal shifts drift from tender to terrifying to tragic, evokeing Dave McKean as well as David Lynch. And his simple yet subtle renderings of facial expressions speak volumes. Through the text and the art we experience the heart and soul of a woman used and abused throughout her life yet constantly struggles to maintain a wholesome, joyful, sexy public facade.
Marilyn’s Monsters comes across as a contemporary Grimms’ Fairy Tale. More poignantly, it’s also a grim cautionary tale that fits all to precisely into today’s #metoo culture.
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writer: William Roy, artist: Sylvain Dorange
In its original French, Hedy Lamarr: An Incredible Life was titled The Most Beautiful Woman in the World. And indeed, this was how Hedy was seen during the Golden Age of Cinema. But as far as she was concerned, all it took to be a glamour girl was to “just stand still and look stupid.”
Far from static or stupid, William Roy’s sophisticated, smartly-written graphic novel moves at a brisk, energetic pace. It not only chronicles Hedy’s independence, drive, creativity, and intelligence but also accentuates her many significant yet little-known achievements beyond tinseltown. We see Hedy the silver screen goddess first gain notoriety with her landmark nude orgasm scene from 1933’s Ecstasy. But we also witness Hedy the inventor, whose important scientific advancements during World War II helped to defeat the Nazis. Her technological discoveries and developments also served as the foundation for today’s internet as well as our modern military defense systems. But, largely due to the stifling sexism that was so prevalent in her day, Hedy was denied due credit for her visionary accomplishments throughout most of her life.
The multifaceted illustrator Sylvain Dorange brings his versatility as a music composer, animation director, and political cartoonist to enhance his stunning visual virtuosity. And it all adds up to a lively, entertaining, and rewarding read. As with Hedy Lamarr’s many contributions to society, An Incredible Life is most deserving of our respect and admiration.
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