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In this new opus, the collection "They made the History" attacks a great character of theFranco-German history, or eveneuropean history : Charlemagne, king of the Franks, new emperor who follows on from the Roman emperors. Extracting itself from the legendary gangue to get closer to History, this comic revisits the most significant episodes of the sovereign's reign, from his ascension to royalty to his coronation in the year 800. A beautiful historical comic accompanied bya file produced by the academic Geneviève Bührer-Thierry, specialist of the Carolingian era.
The Carolingians under the pencil of Gwendal Lemercier
To revive this Carolingian universe from the end of the 8th century, Glénat / Fayard editions called on Gwendal Lemercier, in charge of the design, and Pierluigi Casolino, in charge of colors. Comic book fans will immediately recognize Lemercier's drawing, which does not dive for the first time with its readers into this novel environment. Indeed, Gwendal Lemercier has already drawn for the fantastic saga Durandal where we followed the epic destiny of Roland in a universe straddling the twilight of the ancient gods and triumphant Christianity. This time, Lemercier revisits this era no longer through the prism of legend and the marvelous, but through that of History and the plausible. This opus of the series “They Made History” was done in collaboration with the historian Geneviève Bührer-Thierry and the drawing had to stick as well as possible to what we know of that time. Numerous written and archaeological sources inform us about the sartorial aspect or even about the architecture, although many gaps remain, for example on the appearance of the palaces or the colors of the clothes.
The result is convincing and Gwendal Lemercier shows that he is capable of moving from one register to another. We only have to compare the way in which the felling of Irminsul (sacred tree of the Saxons, supposed to support the celestial vault) is treated of Durandal at Charlemagne to see the giant leap that has been made between fantastic comics and historical comics.
The march to the Empire
Charlemagne's life was relatively long for a man of war of the time (68 years) and very eventful. Consequently, it can prove difficult to tell such a fate in the traditional format of the comic strip, that is to say here a small fifty plates. To stay on point, screenwriters Clotilde Bruneau and Vincent Delmas have chosen to narrow the chronological range to study only the most politically intense part of Charlemagne's life: the period which goes from his rise to royalty in 768 at his coronation in 800. Between these two milestones, no more emperor with the flowery beard, inventor of the school and Roland sounding the horn at Roncesvalles, the story of life is wants as authentic as possible. We follow Charles the Great (Carolus Magnus / Charlemagne) in the annexation of the kingdom of his late brother, in the Lombard conquest where his sister-in-law and his nephews took refuge, then comes the creation of a new kingdom of Lombardy entrusted to his son Pépin after numerous concessions to the Papacy of which he imposed himself as the protector. Then came the Spanish adventure with the retreat and the famous episode of Roncevaux, the war in Bavaria, the expeditions to Saxony with the massacres and forced conversions. But it is also, during all this time, the gradual establishment of an educated and efficient administration to hold such a vast empire ... An empire, that of the Roman emperors of the West of which Charlemagne imposes himself as the heir. An old dream that comes true in Rome, on Christmas Day, in the year 800.
As we can see, even by reducing the chronological limits in this way, the politico-warrior activity is intense and treating them in comic format remains a challenge. The challenge is relatively well taken up by Clotilde Bruneau and Vincent Delmas who manage to juggle between the royal alcoves, where one speaks about administration, intrigues, reforms and ambitions, and the military campaigns where Charlemagne imposes himself by force. To do this, and as often in historical comics, however, it is necessary to go through some very (too?) Explicit bubbles, but essential to inform the reader of a key element (the false legacy for example). You should also know not to dwell on certain elements, such as the Lombard campaign, and only mention them in order to have time to talk about everything.
In the end, the scenario is relatively fluid and complete, the reader lets himself be carried away by the events and follows Charlemagne step by step in his irresistible rise. Nevertheless, for the completely neophyte reader on the subject, we advise the preliminary reading of the historical file.
The historical file: strong point of the new History comics
The comic book ends with a short historical report produced by Geneviève Bührer-Thierry, professor of medieval history at the University of Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée and co-director of the journal's publication. Medieval. She is the author of various works on this Carolingian period, in particular Carolingian Europe (714-888) and France before France (481-888). His collaboration with comics brings scientific backing.
This dossier is important in two respects. First, the historian returns to the difficulty of transcribing Charlemagne's life in comics, of course we have handwritten or archaeological sources which allow us to represent an era, but comics are also the result of a choice. The choice of sources of course (all do not have the same historical value, because Charlemagne was very early a character of legend), but also of the choices to represent what the sources do not allow us to know, of the choices on the way of to give by the French a style which could correspond to the time (whereas one used the Francique, a Germanic dialect and Latin) ... So many narrative biases which are fully justified for the realization of a comic strip, but on which Geneviève Bührer-Thierry is perfectly right to return. By returning herself to the weaknesses that historical comics may have, by not trying to hide them, the historian makes them acceptable to the extent that the reader is warned of them.
Finally, thanks to this dossier, the reader can benefit from a short, clear, synthetic and illustrated presentation of the reign of Charlemagne: his origins, his conquests, the organization of his kingdom, his relationship to the papacy ... pages with many illustrations, a chronology and a welcome map, everyone comes out with a global vision of who Charlemagne was, and that is the essential! Thanks to this dossier and to the collaboration between the academic world and that of the comic strip, the comic book becomes a formidable popularization tool! Finally, those who wish to go further can do so via a small indicative bibliography that will guide them in their reading choices.
A comic book which therefore has its place in the hands of history buffs as well as those who are simply curious, and whose presence would be justified in CDIs and other school libraries.
Screenplay: Clotilde Bruneau & Vincent Delmas
Historian: Geneviève Bührer-Thierry
Drawing: Gwendal Lemercier
Colors: Pierluigi Casolino
Editions: Glénat fayard