David Prudhomme’s Rebetiko

September 28th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Another comic Paul Gravett covers in his Previews is Self Made Hero’s edition of David Prudhomme’s prizewinning graphic novel Rebetiko, in a wonderful translation by Nora Mahony, who also did David B.’s Black Paths and Frédérik Peeters and Pierre-Oscar Lévy’s Sandcastle for them.

Prudhomme takes us through a day and night of carousing, womanizing, hashish-smoking, and music-making for a group of four musicians during which life decisions are made and reaffirmed.  The characters are all based on real people: Piraeus’s famous rebetiko band comprising Markos Vamvakaris, Giorgos Batis, Anestos Delias and Stratos Payioumtzis. Prudhomme replaced Payioumtzis with a character called Stavros, who in many ways resembles Yiannis Papaioannou (though he never played with any of the members in that group). The story takes place in Athens, October 1936, a few months into the military regime of Ioannis Metaxas. As Matthias Wivel writes in The Comics Journal,

“Their hashish-driven, devil-may-care lifestyle is fully congruent with later rock ’n’ roll-archetypes, and is given an acute edge by their dislocation from the new political order. Targets of suspicion and subject to censorship by the authorities for their subversive lyrics and Ottoman-derived music, they become romantic anti-establishment figures for Prudhomme. The story thus shows them in conflict with the police, with the gangsters sharing their immediate environment and with capitalism in the form of an American A&R man hoping to record and preserve their unique music for a mass audience.”

The right wing persecuted rebetiko, considering it an expression of the proletariat, while the left also lambasted it for “contributing to the decline of the working classes, the left had a duty to exalt.” Perhaps most famously in America we owe rebetiko the song “Misirlou,” re-popularized in the ‘90s by Pulp Fiction.

I enjoyed working on an excerpt of this book for Words Without Borders in 2010. With lyrics writ large and floating ghostly over scenes of darkened café interiors, it provides a new formal take on that old challenge of representing music, or at least musicality, in comics. Kim Deitch does it well; Prudhomme provides the suggestion of sung words that escape or transcend the balloons containing speech (and less popularly these days, thought). As if the spoken word (or thought) had parameters, a bounded discourse, while lyrics, approximately diegetic and superimposed on successive panels, belong to everyone in the room. » Read the rest of this entry «

Where am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for Friday, September 28th, 2012 at EDWARD GAUVIN.