One of the Globe & Mail’s 100 Best Books of 2018
A timely collection of work about race and immigration in Paris by one of France's most revered cult comic book artists.
Yvan Alagbé is one of the most innovative and provocative artists in the world of comics. In the stories gathered in Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures—drawn between 1994 and 2011, and never before available in English—he uses stark, endlessly inventive black-and-white brushwork to explore love and race, oppression and escape. It is both an extraordinary experiment in visual storytelling and an essential, deeply personal political statement.
With unsettling power, the title story depicts the lives of undocumented migrant workers in Paris. Alain, a Beninese immigrant, struggles to protect his family and his white girlfriend, Claire, while engaged in a strange, tragic dance of obsession and repulsion with Mario, a retired French Algerian policeman. It is already a classic of alternative comics, and, like the other stories in this collection, becomes more urgent every day.
This NYRC edition is an oversized paperback with French flaps, printed endpapers, and extra-thick paper, and features new English hand-lettering and a brand-new story, exclusive to this edition.
France's colonial history and current racial tensions underpin this dynamically drawn collection. Expanding on the characters in The School of Misery (2013), Alagb explores themes of disconnection among Africans living in France and the uneasiness the native French feel in their presence. Some pieces provide sharp commentary on the enduring existence of colonial attitudes. "Postcard from Montreuil" is a straightforward depiction of the occupation of an employment agency by Malian laborers. "Sand Niggers" ties the 1961 Paris massacre of Algerians to the current migrant crisis, then ties it off with a mystical flourish. The more sprawling, Flaubert-inspired title story weaves together the experiences of a white French woman whose father hates her seeing "a black" with her boyfriend's trouble finding work and security ("pain and pride are two needles under his skin") and his family's harassment by a lonely old white man who fought in the African colonial wars. Alagb 's unstructured storytelling makes as strong an impression as his artwork's contrast between dramatic black slashes and negative space. His imagery and text together create haunting narratives in which a past of racism and guilt keeps overwhelming the present, and also the reader.