Review by Peter Duncan
Metal Hurlant, the French science fiction comic, had a huge influence on the world of comics in general and the British comics scene in particular.
In his fascinating book, The Mighty One, Steve MacManus recalls that the initial concept for the IPC weekly Starlord, was to create a “monthly science fiction title that would sit comfortably alongside magazines such as Omni and Metal Hurlant.”
Starlord lasted a mere 22 issues, but for many readers its merger with 2000AD marked the beginning of the golden age of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. The introduction of “Strontium Dog” and “Ro-Busters” completed what is considered the ‘classic’ line-up.
Metal Hurlant had been the brainchild of a trio of French creators who, along with Finance Director, Bernard Farkas, had formed, Les Humanoïdes Associés in 1975, with the intention of publishing a science fiction comic magazine unlike anything that had been seen before.
Under the guidance of writer Jean-Pierre Dionnet and artists Moebius and Phillipe Druillet, their magazine, Metal Hurlant, reinvented comics for an adult audience with a creativity and audacity that did for bandes dessinées, what Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds had done for science fiction a decade before.
The magazine gave creators the freedom to go beyond what they had done in the relatively staid French comic market and produce sophisticated, mature and sometimes outrageous comic stories.
Large size, with glossy paper and superior reproduction, Metal Hurlant set new standards in production as well as in content.
Druillet’s first book was published in 1966, introducing his sci-fi hero Lone Sloane who would become a mainstay of his career. His art was perfect for the time, psychedelic and wild, violent and erotic with a cyclopean sense of grandeur.
Taking themes from classic sci-fi writers, the fantasies of Michael Moorcock and the horror tales of H P Lovecraft, Druillet turned Lone Sloane into a mainstay of Pilote, one of the top French comic magazines, before moving it to Metal Hurlant in 1975.
The Night was published in 1976 and is the most personal of all his comics – an impotent and furious reaction to the death of his wife, Nicole, from cancer, the year before.
Set in a future city, where lawless bikers face ‘coppers’ and other gangs, in a series of violent battles for drugs, food and, ultimately, for survival, there are things about the comic which are very much, of its time.
The use of faux native American dialogue in the translation could be seen as offensive, but for me it is part of the whole air of ‘wrongness’ that pervades the entire book.
This is a rock and roll comic, that leaps from idea to idea and never really settles. Violent fight scenes are followed by lyrics from Rolling Stones songs and elaborate collages which, eventually bring us to the heart of the matter, and incorporate photographs of Nicole.
There is a noticeable change to Druillet’s tone and art style with this work. There are the same fantastic and outrageous backgrounds, but if his previous work drew on Art Nouveau, gothic architecture and eastern religious art, here the elaborate lines are reserved for ruined and chaotic structures.
You can feel Druillet’s fury in every page, from his own introduction right to the last page of the book. He rages against fate, the failure of the medical profession, the world. But with his final painted image, a self-portrait of himself that is a reflection of the painting of Nicole that opens the story, the anger is replaced by a resigned and deep sadness.
The book, a beautiful hardcover from Titan Comics Statix imprint, opens and closes with quotations from Baudelaire’s “The Flowers of Evil” and with the same subtle collage of his more typical geometric styled-art laid over a very beautiful photograph of a sad-eyed, Nicole.
There is nothing subtle about the rest of The Night. It is both raw and powerful.
Druillet has moved on from comics. But he was among the first of the new breed of French artists that changed the face of the medium in the seventies and eighties. His art was almost certainly an influence on the artists of 2000AD. You can see hints of his style in the work of Mike McMahon and Kevin O’Neill, and he shared a vision of a violent and chaotic future with Carlos Ezquerra that may owe something to their early years living in General Franco’s, Spain*.
The various Lone Sloane books and the Moorcock-inspired, ‘Yragaël/Urm’ are Druillet’s best known works, his huge black and white, Elric book his most spectacular, but The Night is special.
Wild and filled with pain, and with one last photograph, it is incredibly sad. So very sad.
• The Night, translated by Edward Gauvin, is published by Titan Comics as part of the Philippe Druillet Library and is available from all good bookshops as well as AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)
* Druillet was born in Toulouse, France. But following the war, his family moved to Spain to escape reprisals, his father having worked with the Vichy government which co-operated with the German forces.