“The Last Queen”, Jean-Marc Rochette’s lesson in darkness

The Last Queen

by Jean-Marc Rochette

Casterman, 238 pages, €30

On the cover, a ridge line is drawn under an intensely blue sky. As for the two previous albums by Jean-Marc Rochette, Ailefroide(2018) and The wolf(2019). But make no mistake about it. According to the author himself, “this story is twilight” ; dark colors dominate the pages.

The Vercors massif is at the heart of this story. The queen who gives it its title is the last bear killed on these magnificent heights in 1898, a symbol, according to Jean-Marc Rochette, of entry intoa time of darkness”. The hero of the book, Édouard Roux, attends this event as a child. He will never be consoled for this destruction of wildlife.

Mask and love story

Fifteen years later, the First World War broke out. Edouard comes out with a broken face. His head hidden under a canvas bag, he is close to sinking into poverty and alcohol when luck brings him into contact with a sculptress. Jeanne Sauvage created a mask for him, inspired by a kouros, an ancient statue of a young Greek man. A love story develops between them. It will have a tragic ending.

In this new album, Jean-Marc Rochette ties together with a very lively intelligence the subjects that are dear to him. First, of course, the love of the mountains of an author who lives in a remote valley of the Écrins massif. This time, the Alpine peaks exalted by his line are not the Ailefroide or the Râteau but the Mont Aiguille, the Grand Veymont or the Obiou.

Saving Beauty

The attention to animal life and nature, already evident in The wolf (1), is also at the heart of The Last Queen. It’s not just about the killing of a bear. But also the invasion of the mountain by fir plantations. “At their feet, nothing growsexplains Édouard to Jeanne. Their needles sterilize the earth. A forest is not that. A forest is generous. »

The passion for art also inhabits this graphic novel. A generous art, like that of Jeanne or Chaïm Soutine, admired by Rochette at the Grenoble Museum since her childhood. An art threatened by the greed of unscrupulous merchants, but whose beauty is life-saving. A beauty which belies, like the eternal love linking Jeanne and Édouard, the pessimism of this magnificent album.

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