By Olivia Snaije
Jacques Ferrandez is an immensely talented French cartoonist and illustrator, who in his free time plays the double bass. He is beloved and celebrated in France yet practically unknown in the Anglo-Saxon world, even though he has illustrated books entitled Nostalgia in Times Square or two volumes on Miles Davis.
Ferrandez, who was born in Algiers in 1955 and moved to the south of France with his family when he was several months old, has spent much of his career recreating the history of his country of birth in illustrations and cartoons. His graphic novel, L’Étranger, (The Stranger) which he wrote and adapted from Albert Camus’ novel of the same name, was published this April and is a culmination, of sorts, of Ferrandez’s passion for Algeria. Ferrandez had already adapted a short story by Camus called L’Hôte (The Guest) in 2009. L’Étranger has proven popular and its initial print run of 30,000 copies sold out in the first three weeks after it went on sale.
“This wasn’t a coincidence, Camus has been by my side for a long time. His questions are mine, his attitude was very enlightening for me.”
Camus had broken with left wing French intellectuals at the time of the Algerian war of independence because he thought there was another solution to the violence and rupture—one in which pieds noirs Europeans and Algerians could live together peacefully in Algeria.
“I share this sentiment of a missed opportunity. My name is Spanish, I had an ancestor who opened a bistro in Algiers; his clients were a mix of Neapolitans, Maltese, and the Berber Arab population. It makes one dream, such diversity.”
Ferrandez and Camus also had the Belcourt neighborhood in common, where Ferrandez was born and Camus spent his childhood.
“My grandparents knew Camus’ mother, who lived in her apartment until the end. This was probably the small, one-level house described by [the character] Meursault [in The Stranger], so my veiled reference in the comic was to draw my grandparents’ shoe store which was across the street.”
L’Étranger is being translated into Arabic by the Algerian publisher Dalimen; the founder, Dalila Nadjem is also one of the organizers of the Algiers comic book festival which Ferrandez attends regularly, besides the Algiers book fair.
He has become familiar with the city as if he had grown up there, traveling to Algiers twice a year for the past ten years. He began documenting Algeria’s colonial history in 1987 in what became a 10-volume series called Carnets d’Orient, (Middle Eastern notebooks) which includes the war of independence, which ended in 1962.
“Algeria undoubtedly had an influence on who I am; I’ve gone wandering in search of this Arab world,” said Ferrandez.
In his Carnets d’Orient “I didn’t describe a nostalgic Algeria, it was to shed light on the history for myself, but it equally clarified some events for Algerian readers who also have questions about their identity.”
Although Ferrandez has written and illustrated travelogues about Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey and illustrated a book on the Emirates, he does not confine himself to the Middle East; he began his career in the 1980s illustrating crime comic books for the French comics writer, Rodolphe. Ferrandez has adapted two Marcel Pagnol novels; Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources as comics, and also collaborated with the writer Tonino Benacquista on several books. He currently has a project on wine and gastronomy in the pipeline, which will provide a change of atmosphere. That said, Algeria is never far from Ferrandez’s consciousness.
“Algiers is a city that generates stories,” he says, enthusiastically. “I’m thinking of continuing my Carnets d’Orient where I left off, post 1962. There is still so much to say…”
Has he thought of adapting another book by Camus?
“I won’t hide the fact that I’ve thought about Camus’ [unfinished last novel] Le Premier Homme [The First Man].”