Friday, March 7, 2014

Unearthed: Bogie by Claude-Jean Philippe & Patrick Lesueur

One curious aspect in the world of comic books is how much attention we devote to what has been; certainly when it comes to genre material, there are copious indexes, reviews and assorted appreciations found in texts and websites; if the genre material is published by one of the leading publishers, the likelihood of you easily finding material about it increases substantially. But what of non-genre works? Especially genre works which were printed through a self-publisher or defunct publishing entity? That's where you have to perform a little detective work - and since I occasionally run this blog feature "Unearthed," it's safe to assume I enjoy digging up forgotten comics.

In this instance, take the book Bogie. The only information I had about this 1989 Eclipse publication's contents were "biography of Humphrey Bogart." I didn't even know whether or not it was a graphic novel until it landed in my hands! Even then, there's nothing to be found in the item itself which explains what you're about to read or how it came to be; the creators are credited on the front and back cover (in the latter, the artist's name is misspelled) but there is no introduction, no blurbs, nada.

Very small text opposite the title page indicate it was originally published in 1984 in French and had been translated into English for this 1989 printing. So who is author Claude-Jean Philippe (his hyphen is frequently misused) or artist Patrick Lesueur? Why did they feel compelled to compose a biography of actor Humphrey Bogart using the medium of comics? How did Eclipse become interested in republishing the material? Blamed if I know. Retailers must have had fun selling this book back in the day; Res ipsa loquitur.

What we have here is a a French filmmaker (Philippe) whose interest in Bogart's career somehow led to he and Lesueur relating Bogart's story in a way they found meaningful. Having no access to the original French version, I have to assume this translated version is accurate to what they intended.

Thus: Bogie tells the story of Humphrey Bogart in Bogart's own voice. Bogart seemingly narrates this story from beyond the grave. Although the tale leads the readers through his life from start to finish, it's primarily concerned with his career as an actor; some of his childhood and personal relationships make it in, but the story is a celebration of Bogart's cinema career, taking time to visit many of the notable pictures Bogart appeared in (not just the obvious ones, but titles like the Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse and Sahara also make the cut). I'm not certain where the authors' sources on Bogart's life story came from; I've heard it said the tale of Bogart's lip being scarred by an escaped prisoner was a fiction, but Bogie presents it as fact - or, perhaps, as the anecdote originated from Bogart and he's the narrator of this biography, he would naturally keep it in.

Patrick Lusueur's art shows tremendous photorealistic detail, appropriate to the work. Many scenes from Bogart's films are presented on the pages; it could have almost been assembled as a fumetti, but Lusueur adds distinctive touches (notably an infant Bogart depicted with fedora & lit cigarette) to break from reality.

Having recently read Eric Lax's biography Bogart, it's a nice refresher to revisit some of the same material, but through very visual means. There's also a little bit of content found here which links Bogart back to the creators' France. At only 56 pages it's a slim number, but as someone with an interest in the cinema of Humphrey Bogart and the medium of comics, Bogie is the point at which those two graph lines meet. It's a fun little number.

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