Interview with Baru: Part 1

By McKinney, Mark | European Comic Art, July 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Interview with Baru: Part 1


McKinney, Mark, European Comic Art


Abstract

Hervé Barulea (b. 1947), known as Baru, is a French cartoonist of Italian and Breton heritage, who has spent much of his life in the metalworking region around Nancy, in northeastern France, his birthplace. He outlines his approach to comics, beginning with his vision of comics as essentially being images that speak to primal human urges. He finds this kind of imagery today mainly in American movies and novels, but not so much in American comics. He describes his tenure as president of the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée ['International Festival of Comics'] in Angoulême in January 2011, after having won the grand prize for his career's work in comics at the same festival in 2010. Baru then speaks of his approach to history and current events in his comics. He outlines how he has depicted immigrants of European and African heritage in his comics, and then explains why he has often returned to the Algerian War. Baru ends this first half of the interview by describing his views of the French Communist Party, and explaining his critical depiction of it in Les années Spoutnik ['The Spoutnik Years'].

A Brief Introduction to the Author and His Work1

Baru's comics offer some of the most compelling representations in comics of the working class in twentieth- and twenty-first-century France. His gritty stories focus mostly on the dreams and struggles of young people from the working class in the metalworking regions of northeastern France. He is the only cartoonist so far to have twice won the best book prize at the French national comics festival, in Angoulême - in 1991, for Le Chemin de l'Amérique ['Road to America'],2 which he made together with Jean-Marc Thévenet and Daniel Ledran, and in 1996, for L'Autoroute du soleil ['Highway of the Sun']. Both works feature a young man of Algerian heritage as the main protagonist, and both figure the relationship of France to its colonial history in Algeria.3 Baru's personal itinerary has been tightly bound up with that history: for example, as a youth he personally witnessed internecine fighting between different Algerian factions in his working-class neighbourhood in Lorraine during the Algerian War (he alludes to this in both Vive la classe! ['Long Live the Draftees!'] and Les Années Spoutnik) and he performed his civil service in Algeria after the war, in lieu of serving in the French army. Baru's own mixed, French and Italian immigrant, working-class heritage has given him unique insight into the potential opportunities and the difficulties that the 'les damnés de la terre' ['the wretched of the earth'] have faced in France, and continue to confront today. Baru is one of France's foremost cartoonists, as was indicated by the grand prize that he received at Angoulême in January 2010. Among his many works, Le Chemin de l'Amérique is the only one to have been translated into English so far: it was released by Drawn and Quarterly, but unfortunately has been allowed to go out of print.

The Interview

McKinney: What are comics for you?

Baru: Comics are not a language or form of writing as usually defined, that is a group of abstract signs whose association produces meaning through their interpretation by the brain. The image cannot be read in that way. There's something other than signs in an image, and one cannot approach it solely through a deciphering mode. There's a globality and an immediacy in the image that hark back more to an archaic and pre-rational way of perceiving things. Without wanting to overstate the comparison, it's a bit like in voodoo, where there's an experience that's certainly spiritual but isn't lived in a symbolic mode, rather in one that's emotional, physical, carnal, quasi-physiological.

Something that's haunted me since I began making comics is why some people claim that they can't manage to read one. Of course the main reason is that comics are so ill thought of from a cultural standpoint that there are a lot of folks who want above all to avoid losing their cultural standing by admitting that they associate with them. …

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