It doesn’t move. It’s the wrong direction.”
It’s not hard to imagine the appeal of a cartoon character in a different setting, in which the animal’s shape represents an abstract image, like the head and tails of a flower. But the idea of a cartoon rabbit being placed in a cartoon garden, with its head inside a flower, is a little more familiar to contemporary viewers. And a little more familiar to young cartoonists, too. One of Hanna-Barbera’s cartoons from 1968, as well as one from the ’70s about a girl who is “dirtied up”, are both about the way children make themselves invisible to adults.
This type of cartoon art, which is also known as “de-perceptions”, is not confined to children’s media. The French cartoonist Michel Leiris, who is widely considered to be a cultural pioneer, is the creator of an underground network of cartoonists from around the world who collaborate to make comic-book-style books set in different fictional world. Each has distinct, but similar, styles, and their art is usually created without prior comic-book or pop-culture experience.
A book about Leiris’s comics can be found in print for the first time in French this month. “The Bends”, about a boy growing up in an alternative Paris, is presented largely in the style of The Bends, with a few of the “bends” (eccentric and surreal scenes) taken as their own. The story features four parallel comic-book narratives, each one made up of a number of images that are each “drawn” one by one by the “comic-book artist”. Although the title and the title page are entirely Leiris’s creation, the title page for each comic is a mock-up by the artist. “We don’t feel we have to conform to the rules because we know they exist,” says Leiris, who goes by the pseudonym Eléonore. “I think these children are really fascinated by their own imagination and about the art of this process, and so we try to do the same.”
The new comic-book-style comics of the French underground are an extraordinary example of the way our knowledge of the past can alter current thinking. Leiris is not the first to show how popular culture can influence our ideas of the past — indeed, he is part of a recent trend in the US to do some of this through a film called The Past Is Present, produced
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