Photo © Éditions 2024
Meet the Plumets: César and Vespasie, not forgetting Azor the dog. Newly retired from the haberdashery business in Paris, they are all fired up about a holiday in the Alps. Well, César is all fired up; his wife not so much. Gustave Doré's hilarious 1851 comic strip of their adventures — and, more often, misadventures — continues to entertain in the 2013 reprint, Doré: Des-agréments d’un voyage d’agrément (Éditions 2024, 2013).
Between the vertiginous landscapes, avaricious drivers and tour guides, dramatic changes of weather, repulsively inbred locals, and irritating crowds of fellow tourists (especially those annoying amateur poets rhapsodizing about the scenery), our hero yearns for spiritual elevation to match the altitude of the mountains. Meanwhile, Madame Plumet, prosaic soul that she is, bores her husband nightly with extended commentary on the haberdashery of Geneva. Finally they return to Paris, where Monsieur Plumet gives the 900th showing of his lantern slides of their trip to a couple of dozing acquaintances. Plus ça change . . .
Doré plays witty tricks throughout. The book turns out to be Plumet's own sketchbook, blotted with teardrops, footprints and other intrusions described in the narrative, including the muzzle of a gargantuan cow which takes the amateur artist by surprise one morning while he is sketching. Madame Plumet's nervous monitoring of her husband and his party coming to grief on the slopes is presented in a series of double circles, imitating the spectacle as seen through binoculars. Doré even shamelessly inserts himself into the story. At one point Plumet comes upon “the famous M. Gustave Doré” painting a plein air landscape, and receives a kick in the backside from the artist for suggesting that he is caricaturing the scenery.
The volume closes with a brief account by an anonymous 21st century scholar about Doré's originality in relation to the comic strip, even proposing that Plumet's absurd but distinctive peaked cap — which becomes a kind of graphic shorthand for the character himself — pre-figures the winged helmet worn by none other than Asterix the Gaul.
Fans of the comic strip — and everyone else — enjoy!
Des-agréments d’un voyage d’agrément (Éditions 2024, 2013) is available for purchase (in French only) at the NGC Bookstore. The exhibition Gustave Doré (1832–1883): Master of Imagination is on view at the National Gallery of Canada until September 14, 2014.
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