One of my all time favorite Franco-Belgian comics is Nicolas de Crécy’s 2003 album Prosopopus. It is as demanding as it is rewarding to read. The entire 96-page album is silent: no dialogue, no récitatifs, not even sound effects. Without the intervention of captions, De Crécy weaves artfully and hauntingly between two different time frames and at least three different physical spaces to tell a surrealistic noir tale about art forgery, betrayal, guilt, and madness. Turning around a criminal art forgery operation, the story is fundamentally about visual appropriation, a question De Crécy thematizes by drawing visual connections between seeing and eating, painting and birth, video recording and murder.
Prosopopus tells the story of a con man who falls in love with his victim, an abstract painter whose thumbprint he is hired to steal. When a latex cast of the thumbprint is not enough, and the boss intervenes to have the painter killed, De Crécy’s con man retaliates by shooting the boss. This series of actions leads to the arrival of Prosopopus, a grinning fat cartoonish creature made out of the guilty traces of his crime, of blood, cigar smoke, and semen. These guilty traces themselves feed into an infectious production of visual metaphors that connect blood and paint, gun smoke and cigar smoke, semen and yogurt, sexual penetration and an autopsy, a bullet and a penis, and so on. Juxtaposed panels, and visual comparisons, finally bleed so violently into one another that the con man ends up giving birth to his dead boss after the Prosopopus forces him to ingest jar upon jar of yogurt. The bizarreries continue as the Prosopopus films himself forging a painting using the hand of the con man’s dead lover sewn onto the newly-birthed body of the boss, then forcing the con man to watch, the whole scene a horrifying conflation of every scene, along with every visual juxtaposition, preceding it.
His title and epigraph reflect on the Greek figure of prosopopoeia (“figure through which the orator or writer makes an absent or dead person, inanimate object, or animal, speak and act”). De Crécy seems to suggest that all comics are in some way prosopopoeias. The silent format suggests what may be at work whenever we read a comic, silent or otherwise, is an appropriative process that bleeds in both directions. A degree of violence is required to create meaning out of juxtaposed panels; it is violence that acts on us and shapes us, that fills our guts like the yogurt our con man is forced to eat. In the concluding panels, we see the Prosopopus react with an uncanny shudder as he films into the eyes of the pet dog who has been watching all along. The inhuman watcher finds itself watched by inhuman eyes. Is De Crécy depicting a Lynch-esque descent into madness here or should the Prosopopus be read as a surrealistic figure for the way comics make meaning through visual juxtaposition and appropriation? Could this gleefully messy monster be read in some way as a figure for the comics reader, attached, loving and cruel, but above all a violent conflator of visual meanings?