Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Review: National Lampoon presents: Claire Bretecher

Looking on Amazon it seems pretty hard to find any English language collections of French cartoonist Claire Bretecher's work but by looking at her entries on Wikipedia and Lambiek Comiclopedia it is clear that she is pretty revered in her country, and indeed amongst most comics aficionados. But at the time she started getting recognised (70's) she was sadly one of the few women making it big in the European comics scene. She got her big break doing some illustration work for Rene Goscinny and in 1972 she founded the comics magazine L'Echo des savanes with Gotlib and Mandryka.
So having heard her name floating around I picked up a second hand copy of a collection of her cartoons put out by the American humour magazine National Lampoon. Despite the fact that the large majority of her strips focus on gender issues and feature mainly female protagonists, they are portrayed fairly neutrally, as Bretecher herself explains in the books introduction:

'Women in comic strips are usually portrayed either as shrews or movie stars. But in real life, women, like men, are neither of these extremes, so I portray women and men alike, except that the women have two little round things on their chest'

This comes as a refreshing antidote to the reinforcement of female stereotypes in comics of that period especially the newspaper strip Cathy by Cathy Guisewite which has been parodied to death over the years.

Stylistically and thematically Bretecher reminds me slightly of Jules Feiffer in her dealings with the pretensions of the intellectual and bohemian elite. Whether mocking parents new found obsession with Freud, lampooning film critics, or poking holes in the commitment of the anti-consumerist crowd Bretecher's humour is as relevant now as it was back then. The sign of a true feminist in my eyes is someone who champions equality not superiority and I can safely say Bretecher follows this blueprint to the tee, not being afraid to make a mockery of the feminists as well as shooting down the chauvinists with her razor sharp wit. Most of the strips carry a subtle slightly absurdist message reminding us never to take ourselves too seriously, but from some of the strips its easy to see where her sympathies lie (a strip about abortion managing to make a poignant joke about women's choice in the matter). Overall this is a nice introduction to Bretecher's work and I for one would like to see more of it made available, especially her colour work and her teenage character Agrippine.

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