During the summer of 2013, the Edinburgh International Book Festival ran a major comics and graphic novels strand entitled Stripped which we covered heavily here on downthetubes at the time. BookFest’s 2013 Illustrator in Residence was Stephane-Yves Barroux who took part in several Stripped talks as well as many other more general BookFest events. One of his Stripped talks was with editor and translator Daniel Hahn which covered Barroux’s French graphic novel about World War One, On Les Aura!
At that time the book had not been published in the UK as it was still in the process of being translated into English yet despite being in a foreign language, On Les Aura! proved so popular with Festival attendees that the BookFest’s book shop had difficulty keeping the French edition of it in stock. It is therefore good to report that the English edition of the book, entitled Line Of Fire, has just been published by Phoenix Yard Books and the British edition includes a new introduction by the former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo.
Stephane-Yves Barroux was born in Paris, raised in North Africa, educated in France and has worked in France, Canada, and the USA where he was a press illustrator for publications such as the New York Times, Washington Post and Forbes magazine. He now mainly illustrates children’s picture books but has several graphic novels to his credit including On Les Aura! The original title of the book is a French WWI call-to-arms which does not have a good English translation, and even if it did it would not have the same cultural resonance with British readers, hence the sub-title of the English edition, Diary of an Unknown Soldier, August – September 1914.
The book illustrates the true story of a French soldier and his experiences on the front line during the first months of the Great War with the story coming to Barroux’s attention in a remarkable way. He was walking back to his Paris home from the Place de la Concorde one night when he saw two men emptying a basement of rubbish – chairs, books and magazines. Intrigued by the books and magazines he started looking at the pile and discovered amongst it a cardboard box tied with a shoelace. Inside the box was an old jotter full of very small handwriting with a legible date of August 1914 plus a military medal and, intrigued, he decided to take them home. As the handwriting was difficult to read, and his children were dismissive of his finds, he put them away and forgot about them.
Six months later at a book fair he mentioned the jotter to another bandes dessinee creator who pointed out to him that he had effectively found the script of a story – a story that neither of them knew the plot to. So Barroux got the diary typed up by someone who could decipher the handwriting and found that it was the diary of a soldier going to war. It began with him leaving his family at the train station and followed him through the rear echelons to combat on the front line, recording the minutiae of the his daily life, up to the point where he was injured by shrapnel and taken to a hospital. The soldier had written his name on the cover but between the darkening of the paper and the lightening of the ink over the years the name had become indecipherable.
Line Of Fire was translated into English by Sarah Ardizzone and has just been published in the UK by Phoenix Yard Books with the backing of the Arts Council England. There will be a launch event for the book at Waterstones in London’s Piccadilly at 1830 on Thursday 13 February 2014 while its illustrator Barroux will be signing and drawing at Heffers Bookshop in Cambridge on Saturday 15 February and running a drawing workshop at the Imagine Festival at London’s Southbank Centre on Sunday 16 February.
• There are more details on Line Of Fire on the book’s official website – www.lineoffirebook.com
• The review of Barroux’s Line Of Fire Stripped talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2013 is available on the Stripped blog.
• There are more details of Barroux’s work on his website – www.barroux.info
• There are more details of Phoenix Yard Books on their website – www.phoenixyardbooks.com