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Jean-Marc Rochette with Olivier Bocquet


Page 45 Review by Jonathan

"That was the day I fell in love with mountains.
"Beauty in its purest form.
"And there was only one thought in my head: going up. All the way up."

Which immediately brings but one thought into my head... What goes up has to come down, right?
One way or another...

I've never really understood the appeal of staring death in the face in which mountaineers seem to revel. Getting completely off my face, certainly, but the prospect of repeatedly daring the grim reaper to come and take me away has always seemed a bit much. I certainly can't deny the power of a majestic snow-capped mountain range to induce awe in me, mind you.

I do believe, though, a not inconsiderable part of the appeal of mountaineering for most is the mental peace and quiet. Aside from the eye-watering vistas and the lung-bursting exercise obviously! But I do wonder whether seeking absolute overwhelming solitude in the near infinite and icy vastness of unforgiving mountains isn't perhaps just a little about trying to escape one's self too. Or find one's true self, depending on your perspective. I'm just not sure dangling from a precipice by little more than my fingertips is the right angle of approach in that direction for me...

No, I'll just read about it instead thank you!

I think there is definitely the risk of addiction to the adrenaline induced by such activity, though, which is possibly what encourages mountaineers to take crazy chances when perhaps the risk versus reward calculations don't really stack up. In other words, they get over-confident, both in their own abilities, but also in that of the natural world not to prey upon them. Others yes, but not them...

Right, philosophical aside and the mildest of hints about the content of this work complete, I suppose I should tell you a bit more about it really!

From the creator of the epic post-apocalyptic trilogy SNOWPIERCER consisting of VOL 1: THE ESCAPE, VOL 2: THE EXPLORERS and VOL 3: THE TERMINUS, plus also now the pre-apocalyptic anticipatory lead-in with SNOWPIERCER: THE PREQUEL PART 1 EXTINCTION (all four reviewed by Page 45) comes this autobiographical tale of one young man's burgeoning obsession with mountains, and indeed also learning to draw comics.

I found lone wolf Jean-Marc's coming-of-age story inspirational and moving in equal measure. It's not going to make me want to climb mountains, it's had quite the reinforcing opposite effect in that respect, but I came to greatly admire his indomitable will, and also his complete absence of desire to conform. Sounds like he'd be perfect for a career in comics...

The seeming disinterest of his mother towards pretty much any part of Jean-Marc's life whatsoever must certainly have contributed enormously to his sense of isolation, but I would imagine also helped to engender his immense independence. Even the one true bonding attempt she tries to make, asking a teenage Jean-Marc if she can come climbing with him, inevitably takes a turn for the worse. Instead she seems far more interested in simply collecting the stipend from the French state for the loss Jean-Marc's father in Algeria many years previously.

So it's probably no surprise that upon attaining his emancipation from her with his 18th birthday, Jean-Marc promptly kicked her out of his life. The control of his cash payout, which he would continue to receive for another three years, allowed him to pursue his love of mountaineering with a greater intensity. Indeed, we don't see his mother again until a certain... disturbing moment... when even then, she seems far more interested in herself than her son.

It seems puzzling therefore that he actually dedicated this book to his mother. I almost wonder whether it was entirely to prove a point. That despite her complete lack of maternal affection, he had succeeded in achieving his goals. Though I am sure it is perhaps far more complex than that. Still, she doesn't seem to come out of this work with much merit at all.

Before that moment, though, there are a few far-too-close brushes with death for Jean-Marc and his coterie of climbing chums. It's inevitable, of course, that eventually one of them will succumb, but when it happens, it's still as much of a shock for Jean-Marc as it is for us. Not least because of the circumstances... Does Jean-Marc learn his lesson at that point though? No, of course not... Nothing could happen to him, right?

So once again it seems the peerless natural wonder of mountains and their deranged devotees and denizens is the perfect material for brilliant comics! I am a huge fan of Jiro Taniguchi's THE SUMMIT OF THE GODS, in fact it is one of my all-time favourite comics, being primarily a story of one of the most bloody-minded and singularly determined individuals ever to decide to do it just because it's there. There's more than a little of that attitude going on here.

Also, Gou Tanabe's exquisitely beautiful insanity inducing two-part adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's classic AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS. You might think that title isn't an appropriate comparison to this work in terms of content, but I don't know, it certainly seems to be that all mountains have a way of inducing a temporary insanity of sorts in those who become truly obsessed with them.

Rochette has buddied up for this project with writer Olivier Bocquet (who wrote the concluding part of the SNOWPIERCER trilogy) who I imagine has merely (I say merely, but who wouldn't want a brilliant writer giving you a hand with your autobiography?!) provided some degree of input on that aspect to help his artist friend. Between them they've done a superb job. I was gripped from the off like a well-tightened crampon and the tension doesn't just come from taut climbing ropes either as Jean-Marc finds himself under immense emotional pressure both at home and at school. Which is why the mountains provide his escape route... where he finds a group of like-minded individuals with whom he comes to enjoy a true sense of camaraderie.

The art meanwhile is suitably rugged, yet subtly detailed, like an unforgiving rock face that reveals more and more complexity as you are required to pay it increasingly close attention. There are some lovely flourishes of colour too, an early trip to the museum providing an example of the sort of almost rapturous trance than our young Jean-Marc could concentrate himself into even then. There's actually a delightful reprise to that visit many years later which I thought was a brilliant touch.

Plus, it was truly fascinating to learn of the local pioneering legends of climbing in the French Alps. There are some brilliant anecdotes that Jean-Marc and his chums recount to each other of these early alpinists. His adoring respect for them and their part in opening up the mountains he loves is clear to see as he and his friends try to follow in their huge footsteps, whilst also dreaming of making their own marks for posterity.

Danger, however, is of course always only ever a misstep, a brief lapse in concentration or just a random moment of misfortune away. Much like comics really, read enough comics and you'll get a paper cut eventually...

As we exit the book we find Rochette wisely leaving the mountains behind, but firmly in the foothills of a new and equally demanding odyssey, his ascent towards the pinnacle of the extremely treacherous and demanding professional world of the comics creator. I think there can be no doubt he has reached the summit.

[NOTE: Assistant Ed. - Just stepping outside of comics for a moment, if you do get chance, you really should check out the film version of Snowpiercer which was very loosely adapted indeed by director Boon Joon-ho, who of course recently won the Oscar for Best Film with Parasite. It is genuinely brilliant and I think a superb example of how an adaptation of comics material needn't just be a slavish (if frequently abridged) copy of the original, but how the comics can instead provide the inspiration for something rather wonderfully different.

Also, there is a loose continuation of Snowpiercer coming to French TV soon, which I am rather intrigued about. Again, it looks like it is going to take inspiration from the comics rather than just be a direct adaptation / continuation. But it certainly looks to have just the right post-apocalyptic vibe from what I've seen so far, and I'm sure more than a few snow-capped mountains.]