Sunday, May 27, 2012

Books/Graphic Novels: Sambre by Yslaire

Keeping in line with the ongoing French theme of the moment, I suddenly thought about an amazing series of graphic novels that my old friend and one-time roommate Maud had introduced me to years ago. For some reason I have never been all that drawn to graphic novels, or BD as they are called in France (the acronym for "bande déssinée", literally a "drawn strip"). Apart from Tintin (who I absolutely adore) and Asterix, I never really read many graphic novels growing up, or still even today. When Maud started going on and on about a graphic series called Sambre that I had to read I wasn't really interested. Until she gave me the first one, and then I was hooked. I don't know why I suddenly thought of it today of all days (going through my thought process it sounds a little like this: rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 8 - seeing Beth's Buffy graphic novel - oh my god remember that wonderful French graphic novel series I read back in France?). I couldn't remember the name, so after a little research via and then the FNAC website I found it. Sambre. Should be synonym of both beauty and despair.

 The main storyline is based on the torturous and condemned love affair between Bernard Sambre, a young man from a bourgeois family in France, and Julie, a beautiful vagabond and daughter of a prostitute, who has red eyes, something that incites fear in many a heart. The series follows the couple's descent into despair in the midst of the 1848 revolution in France. Bernard and Julie cannot be together, but cannot be apart, end up finding each other and then leaving each other, willingly or not, time and time again. The drawings are reminiscent of all the19th century had to offer: dark, powerful, romantic, decadent and full of doom, with a touch of hope here and there. Bernard and Julie, as well as the many characters that surround them, are beautifully drawn, and it's very easy to fall into their world of fire, pain, love and glory. It's unfortunate that the series has never been translated into English, although it would require an excellent translator who understands and feels the story to do it properly (in my opinion). The drawings are amazing, but the words are just as important in setting the scene and the characters.

After that short description (which really doesn't do the series any justice to be honest), you probably understand why I fell in love with it. Gothic doom, unrequited love, 19th century? Say no more. Best read with a background of Berlioz. I have only actually read the first four, as there was a long wait for the fifth one to come out, and I left France before it did. Now I need to add them all to my list, and more, as, according to Wikipedia, there are other series out there, and others in the works, all based on the Sambre family, post Bernard and Julie.

Sambre is a compound word, created from the words "sang" (blood) and "sombre" (somber). The title of the first book in the series is "Plus ne m'est rien...", a phrase that conjures up exactly the way I feel some days. Actually, some old friends of mine released a song of the same name back in the late 90's, which happens to be absolutely beautiful and I think now is the time to listen to it. This band is actually very, very dear to me, for many different reasons (and not just because I grew up with some of the members). More about that another time...

Bernard Hislaire on Wikipedia (it definitely sounds translated from French though)
Sambre at the FNAC

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