Nicolas de Crécy - The Celestial Bibendum (4 stars)

Gorgeous reprint and translation of artist/writer de Crécy’s often bizarre comic

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Nicolas de Crécy - The Celestial Bibendum

Knockabout, the UK publisher/distributor that’s been making Transatlantic underground and alternative comics available to the turned on and tuned in since the 1980s, has more recently been in the business of translating and repackaging into oversize coffee table-format editions the work of some seriously talented European cartoonists. Following Knockabout’s repackaging of Vincent Paronnaud aka Winshluss’ gloriously off-the-wall reimagining of Pinocchio comes another equally sumptuous hardback edition, a 200-page tome by fellow French cartoonist Nicolas de Crécy that’s just as wildly imaginative and beautifully rendered as its immediate predecessor.

The Celestial Bibendum is a beguiling mix of fantasy, surrealism and absurdist humour that features anthropomorphic animal characters alongside human caricatures. It resists a simple synopsis, but here goes anyway: a seal named Diego, who gets about with one shoe and a pair of crutches, sets sail for the towering dystopian city of New York-sur-Seine. There, Diego is courted by the intelligentsia, who want to groom him for the Nobel Prize of Love, and is also targeted by a pair of mysterious but certainly evil higher powers who take the form of the President and the Devil. It’s a truly bizarre story (made all the more odd by dint of being narrated by a disembodied head buried in a cellar in a ruined chateau in rural France) and it is tricky to follow, but it does operate within its own internal logic.

In any event, de Crécy’s stunning artwork, which is comprised of rough-hewn brush strokes and draughtsman-like design and muted hues punctuated by explosions of electrifying colour, is enough to carry the reader through to the end of his narrative. If these lovely images seem familiar that’s probably due to de Crécy’s collaborations with comics writer-turned-animator Sylvain Chomet. The pair worked together on Chomet’s first short film, The Old Lady and the Pigeons, and Chomet’s follow-up feature, Bellville Rendezvous, is heavily indebted to de Crécy’s distinctive visual style (which lead to accusations of plagiarism). De Crécy’s comic art and storytelling is well worth checking out, and The Celestial Bibendum, his magnum opus, is a great place to start.

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