Magazine article Eye : The International Review of Graphic Design

Framing the Evidence of War

Magazine article Eye : The International Review of Graphic Design

Framing the Evidence of War

Article excerpt

By incorporating reportage of Russia's Afghan war,this hybrid takes the graphic novel and photo journalism to new levels.

If a book like The Photographer already exists, I have certainly never seen it. This three-way collaboration between the late French photographer Didier Lefèvre, graphic novelist Emmanuel Guibert and graphic designer Frédéric Lemercier is a breathtakingly original piece of work that reveals new possibilities for a medium, the graphic novel, that still divides readers into two camps. There are those who enjoy them, and those - especially in the UK - who can't shake the feeling that to be caught with your head in a comic book would mark you forever as an emotionally stunted post-adolescent, no matter how often we are told that the graphic novel came of age years ago. I'm a selective enthusiast, a dabbler in the rarer comic book pleasures rather than a full-time convert, but I'm still happy to throw in my lot with the first group. If you are concerned with graphic communication, how could you not be interested in a medium that unites writing, illustration and page design in the service of a continuous narrative? The Photographer supplies a new level of aesthetic complication and a new argument for the vitality of comics by adding a fourth strand to this mongrel medium: photography.

The book was first published in French in 2003 and it has sold 250,000 copies in the Frenchspeaking world. Now it arrives in an English translation (by Alexis Siegel) published by First Second in New York.

In 1986, Lefèvre undertook a gruelling assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), travelling overland from Pakistan with a group of medics into Afghanistan, where the mujahideen were then at war with the Soviet Union. It was his first project as a photojournalist and he took pictures at almost every stage of the journey. Six of the photos were published in the French newspaper Libération later that year. Several thousand remained in storage, unseen, until Guibert, who had heard stories about the trip, suggested to his friend that they collaborate on a book about it.

Guibert's masterstroke is to present the photos as panels in the narrative. Where even a generous photo-essay in a magazine would need to be highly selective, this allows incidents caught on camera to be presented sequentially from multiple perspectives, building a much fuller sense of a scene than would ordinarily be possible. …

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