Paris made vividly personal
I am a walker in the city. For me, the sidewalk is the cornerstone of urban life. In my Los Angeles neighborhood, I go days without getting in a car, walking to the bank, the dry cleaner, the grocery store, strolling the streets in the late summer evenings, watching the sky turn purple, black.
We think of cities as anonymous, as sprawling — and they are. But they are also private, intimate, landscapes suspended between loneliness and community. This is what urban walking offers, a way to navigate the boundary between ourselves as individuals and part of the collective: city as identity.
Such an interplay sits at the center of Victor Hussenot’s beautiful, ethereal “The Spectators” (Nobrow: 96 pp., $22.95), a graphic novel — or is it? — about city walking, city haunting, all the ways the metropolis can get beneath our skins. The city here is Paris; Hussenot is a French artist who has published three books in his native country, although this is the first to appear in the United States.
There is no story per se, just a series of riffs, imaginative leaps. “Each of us,” he observes, “sees the city in our own way. ... From the rift between sleep and waking bursts of lights. ... The mind’s eye is set free. ... The invisible is revealed.”
In part, Hussenot is referring to the voyeuristic aspects of city life, how we are often on the outside looking in. But even more, he is pointing out its layers, multiple lives and multiple eras overlapping in real time.
One of my favorite sequences describes the Metro and its role as “the Parisians’ ephemeral and shifting home.” What Hussenot is getting at is history, both its presence and, in some sense, its collapse.
“Above their heads,” he writes of the train, “it travels through the ages.” Beneath that sentence, three vertical panels illustrate the point. The first is a black-andwhite evoking the early years of the 20th century, the second an image of punk rockers and the third a contemporary scene. That all take place on the same stretch of sidewalk is the point precisely, that we inhabit our cities only briefly, that they have a life that extends beyond our own.
“The Spectators” offers both mystery and grace. It evokes the city as I know it: full of unimaginable complexity. What draws us to such landscapes? That we can be alone and together all at once.
AN ILLUSTRATION from “The Spectator.”