Craig's review argues that Haunted's ending comes too quickly and arbitrarily to be wholly satisfying, and I agree. I get the sense that Dupuy could have continued in this vein for some time, and indeed might have but for unseen practical reasons that forced him to close down the project peremptorily. A book like this needs lots of space to work its magic; it's something that sneaks up on you, so that 200 pages hardly seems like too much. Haunted is a deliberate patchwork; its logic is piecemeal, by which I mean accretive and gradual. On finishing it, I had a hard time characterizing what I had just read, and I could happily have read a lot more.
The key word here is happily.
I like the book very much. I didn't have any problem with its thematic focus (what Craig calls its solipsism, its obsessing over the artist's fears), nor with its dreamlike, allegorical approach, its lack of biographical or historical particulars, or its asking price. I do agree that the book comes too suddenly to an arbitrary, skidding, end, but I'm still impressed, delighted in fact, with what it accomplishes in its 204 pages. Haunted adds up to something subtle but, for my money, beguiling.
Craig points out that the book would fit easily into our recent exchange about the use of fragmentation in comics storytelling. When I wrote about this I had in mind the individual comics page; Craig, though, extended the discussion to entire books, for example Eddie Campbell's use of tiny fragments and recurrent details in his memoir After the Snooter (oh, Campbell fans, check out the first in our new Campbell series if you haven't already, plug plug). Haunted, though it lacks Campbell's specificity of autobiographical and historical detail, is similar insofar as it purports to be a memoir of sorts, comprised of at-first seemingly disconnected fragments that gradually cohere into something larger. The nature of that "something larger," admittedly, remains elusive even on rereading; as Craig says, the specific reasons for Dupuy's fears and obsessions are left unsaid. But, then, Haunted is a different kind of book from its nearest predecessor, Maybe Later. I don't mind. Call it an autobiography-in-spirit, or a memoir of a restless mind: Haunted doesn't add up to an account of specific events whose factualness could be disputed. Dupuy's personal and professional acquaintances barely figure in the book at all (but for one episode invoking his mother and that brief invocation of fellow artist Blutch); geographic particulars are scant to nonexistent; and its shuttling back and forth between dream and putative reality seems designed to throw a wrench into any such pettifogging distinctions. It's the comics equivalent of a series of daydreams.
I'm not concerned with the putative truth value of these episodes, but with their suggestiveness, their depth and power to engage, and the way they add up. As Craig says, Haunted is a series of seeming improvisations; in all, the book strings together fourteen episodes, of which nine feature a recognizable self-caricature of Dupuy, what Craig calls a cartoon avatar (in my book, again with the plugs, I call it the cartoon self). The remaining five boast a bemusing variety of protagonists, from Left Bank artiste to lucha libre wrestler to the funny animals of "Forest Friends" and then some. In many cases these seem to be veiled cartoon selves, if only because the larger context of the book and the repetition of certain themes or preoccupations make us read the whole package as "autobiographical." But the exact nature of the autobiographical here is up for grabs. Though Dupuy's cartoon self dominates -- fully half of the episodes are "Run Movies" -- this is not slice-of-life autobiography in the sense of Lewis Trondheim's Approximativement or Les Petits riens / Little Nothings, nor indeed of Dupuy & Berberian's Maybe Later, but rather of the openly fictive, even fanciful "semi"-autobiographical or poetic-autobiographical, for which there is also plenty of precedent in la nouvelle bande dessinée (for example in Joann Sfar & Emmanuel Guibert's historical-cum-autobiographical Les Olives noirs, or Sfar's fantasy-autobiography La Vallee des Merveilles). Actually, the closest points of comparison that come to mind are Killoffer's 676 Apparitions of Killoffer, with its pitch-dark, self-lacerating fantasies, and the more fanciful autobiographical strips of Crumb.
The facticity of Dupuy's book is of no consequence for my response to it. That qualifying prefix, semi-, should be understood (i.e., parenthetically voiced) when dealing with just about any autobiographical work. Anyway, I feel for Dupuy's cartoon selves, whatever their links to historical fact. The anguish and uncertainty revealed in the book ring true enough. As Craig notes, fears run throughout: of amputation (Dupuy's dread of losing his hands, or the dog that severs its own leg to escape a trap), mutilation, castration; of body parts breaking down; of falling down, losing one's balance, losing one's way. Dig those rats running round inside Dupuy's body, or that furious minotaur, who, emasculated, smashes his head against a wall. In "Empty" (one of my favorites), an artist literalizes his teacher's advice about negative space and ends up courting emptiness in every part of life, to his ruin. Yet gladness and opportunity also sprout up in the book, from time to time: a museum with bare walls is not empty, we're told, but "available"; then, a bit later, the artist obsessed with emptiness creates something beautiful. An encounter between Dupuy and a weary, world-traveling art collector (who happens to be a duck) ends in a kind of expanded vision for both; later, the amputee in "Forest Friends," lost and believed dead by his friends, reappears, not healed but at least no longer lost nor alienated. Most touchingly, Dupuy imagines his departed mother running alongside him, during his morning jog.
Craig, I dig your point about the book's peremptory conclusion, but I don't understand why the books's brevity per se bugs you. Santoro's Storeyville is likewise a quick read, and, narratively, it develops no further than a short story; its asking price is the same. Yes, it's more lavish, but Haunted is just as beautiful. The outsize format of Storeyville just means that we're more conscious of looking at that book in objet d'art mode. But Haunted warrants its beautiful production too. Dupuy's style here, while loose and gestural, is so joyous and so readable, that is, so confidently expressive, that it's a wonder. If the thin, sometimes-fragile lines evoke Saul Steinberg,
of course the immediacy and simplicity of the technique also bring to mind, yet again, Campbell. And what's more, as we've already implied, Haunted's piecemeal narrative technique is very much akin to Campbell's use of fragments, which you're on record as admiring (heh). So I don't see why the asking price of the book, or the fact that it can be read quickly, poses a problem.
Granted, Haunted's asking price is likely to deter some prospective readers unfamiliar with Dupuy & Berberian; what's more, the book may be best appreciated in the context of a dialogue with Dupuy & Berberian's work, so those coming to it cold may be at a disadvantage. But I cannot fault the book's handsome production, which to my eye is most welcome. That even the blank pages in this book have a certain weight seems fitting, since the blanknesses are often, crucially, pauses or narrative ellipses.
Beyond all this is the fact that Haunted includes several pieces that, if taken separately, would stand out for their wholeness and quality: "Lucha Libre (Love Catch)," or "Empty," or "Forest Friends." If any one of these appeared in an anthology, I bet we'd be talking about how terrific they are. I know I would. To say that the easy readability of these stories is deceptive is an understatement.
Despite its abrupt ending, then, Haunted strikes me as a fascinating, wonderful book: a bravura display of cartooning with a dark, nagging, motivating undercurrent. I recommend it highly.
[A complimentary review copy of this book was provided by Drawn & Quarterly.]