Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Review: Blackbird, Pierre Maurel (self-published, 2008-ongoing)

Pierre Maurel | A5, black & white | €3.50 per issue | Ongoing

The thing about self-publishing is that for every great comic, there’s one thousand illegible pieces of trash that make you wish you hadn’t started drinking before attending your local mini-comics festival with your wallet. However, when you find those few exceptional pieces of Xeroxed work, it all feels worth it and acts as a prudent reminder that some of the best creative work is done outside of the radar – and  control – of the publishing industry.

A celebration of DIY publishing in form, distribution and content, Pierre Maurel’s unofficially-titled Blackbird (the covers themselves appearing without name) is one of our favourite ongoing comics of the moment. With several published works under his belt (two of which appearing in the sélection officielle at Angoulême in 2007 and 2009) the French writer/ artist  decided to take advantage of the possibilities and freedom of working outside of a publisher.

Released episodically since 2008, Blackbird is the story of a group of mini-comic/ zine creators in a society that has just declared self-publishing to be illegal. Obviously, there’s a healthy layer of meta-narrative to the comic, given that the reader must at least partially be interested in self-publishing to be reading it in the first place. With the government enacting measures to criminalise the production and distribution of works outside of the publishing spectrum, a dystopian seed is planted in the story. Whilst Nineteen Eighty-Four might focus on the logical conclusion of authoritarianism, Blackbird examines its beginnings, focusing on the absurdity of this political perspective and the attrition of liberty it causes. It’s rare that the term “underground comics” has any kind of literal value, but here it's spot on, following creators banding together to produce and distribute their work by any means necessary.

That’s going to be a bitch to get out.

It's a simple concept made compelling by Maurel's excellent use of comic language and the gradual exacerbation of the groups guerrilla tactics: operating in secret, stealing equipment and launching inky projectiles against government ministers to voice their protest. Much more subtle than it sounds on paper, the politicised nature of the subject is more an impetus for the narrative than the direct focus of it. The relationship between Maurel’s characters is at the forefront of the comics, and he builds a genuine sense of pre-existing history amongst the group. His understated dialogue and natural introduction of people combine to create, a fully-realised network of people that genuinely feel like they’ve existed long before the events of the story. Not just commendable in its own right, it serves to magnify the atmosphere of anxiety, desperation and rebellion by using the reader's perceived familiarity with the world of the comic, and giving real power to the tyrannical changes in law.

Stylistically, Maurel is one of those creators who has a balance of styles so specific that you can see a little bit of everyone and no-one in it. His illustration leans towards the clear-line style, but there’s a frenetic inkiness to it that adds a sense of expression and movement to his panels. Complimented by his realistic construction of environments and use of dynamic perspective, it's sure to appeal to any appreciators of technically-minded comics storytelling. The visual centrepiece of the issues, for me, are the fantastic skateboarding sections; used occasionally as a transitional device, they add momentum and spacial flair to the comics as the protagonist travels around the city. I can only assume that Maurel's got a stack of Thrasher Magazine issues next to his drawing table, given that his reproductions of rapid-shutter skateboarding photo composites are impeccable. 

Although Maurel claims his decision to self-publish was made in order to have something to trade with other creators at conventions, the mini-comic format is appropriate, and he should be applauded for releasing such high quality work via self-publishing. At just €3.50 (approx $4.40 / £2.85 at the current rates) an issue (currently on issue 4 of 6), it’s impossible to resist. If you can read French, or you have a friend that does, I definitely recommend checking it out immediately.

Also, because he’s awesome, he’s provided our readers with his translation of a segment from Issue 3 that we’re proud to display in its entirety below. I, for one, can’t wait for the next issue, which is currently on track to be released at the end of next month. Enjoy!



  1. Merci, AtF, pour toujours me donner créateurs exceptionnels! xxx
    (ma français est un peu mal!)