“This book,” starts the introduction, “was written by a man who did not exist. Despite this obvious handicap, Alfred Raquez was extraordinarily prolific.” Raquez was in fact a man on the lam: his real name Joseph Gervais, a lawyer from Lille, who got into a spot of bother—fraud, it seems—and decamped to the Orient, as it was then called, to avoid arrest and prosecution.
Bandes dessinées are a francophone tradition; to call them “comic books” is do to them a disservice. The English term “graphic novel” isn’t quite right either, since a bande dessinée might, as is this one, be non-fiction; and while the artwork in contemporary English-language comics is not as dire as it once was, the emphasis is, as the term implies, as often as not on “graphics” rather than work in traditional media.
The 2018 “Le French May” opened in Hong Kong with The Painting on the Wall from the Ballet Preljocaj. The inspiration for this new work is a Chinese fairy tale from the Qinq Dynasty-era Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, collected (not unlike the Brothers Grimm, except more than a century earlier) by Pu Songling and published posthumously in 1740.