The question of national identity is a stumbling block that divides and inflames the political sphere and which also interests more and more French people. The Delcourt editions seek to approach this theme in their own way through a fairly martial prism: to present five battles that mark the history of France and can feed our reflection on what it means to be French and the evolution of the feeling of belonging. To open the ball, the first volume is devoted to the battle of Valmy, September 20, 1792, which marks the first great revolutionary victory and became the founding myth of the French Republic.
Five battles that made France
Lovers of uchronic comics already know the scriptwriter Thierry Gloris and the designer Emiliano Zarcone for their Waterloo 1911 series describing an early twentieth century dominated by the French Empire since Napoleon's victory on June 18, 1815, all in a friendly atmosphere. steampunk. Today we find the two men on a completely different, more historic project: to revive the battle of valmy, first important victory of the revolutionary armies on September 20, 1792. This comic strip is part of a set of five volumes forming the “Fields of Honor” collection. The five parts of this collection, all independent of each other, will deal with five of the great battles that mark the history of France: Castillon (1453), la Bérézina (1812), Camerone (1863), Dunkirk (1940) and therefore for start: Valmy (1792).
The selected battles are obviously not the most foundational (Bouvines ...), nor the most glorious (Austerlitz ...), but they are posed as milestones of a common history shared by the French and which would make their identity. This memorial and identity process is quite clear, the will of the collection is explicitly to apprehend the national novel and to question what it means to be French. Without wanting to give a rigid and closed definition of identity, without making the past the only element of understanding this identity, the collection seems to want to show that the French identity is also forged in the cohesion proper to the painful hours illustrated by these great battles. By treating a large period ranging from the 15th to the 20th century, this collection also makes it possible to question the very notion of identity and belonging, its evolution: “the notion of belonging has fluctuated through the centuries. Allegiance went first to a man, to a city, to a people, then to a nation. National identity is therefore not a value frozen in stone. To be and to feel French is not only and exclusively living behind borders that one would like to sanctify. It is above all a state of mind. A desire to live together, a need to live together, a need to die together. Apart from that, no salvation ”.
Valmy - September 1792
Valmy? A simple cannonade. About 500 deaths in all for all the belligerents. We are far, far away, from the heroic butchers that will follow during the wars of the Revolution and the Empire. And yet, Valmy holds an essential place in the French national novel: Valmy is the first great revolutionary victory, Valmy is the citizen soldiers who stop retreating in the face of the enemy, Valmy is the invasion of the national territory. which is stopped, Valmy is the pivotal date which marks the end of the Monarchy and the beginning of the 1st Republic! Valmy immediately became a founding myth for Republican France, Valmy are words (the Nation, the People ...), Valmy are images (the cannons, the mill ...), Valmy is a date (1792, Year I ...) that all the students had to learn under the supervision of their teacher. Valmy has thus become one of the elements of the national glue, shared by all. Valmy has almost become a state of mind: that of a people ready to sacrifice themselves to push back the invader, to protect their borders and their freedoms.
Thierry Gloris' screenplay quickly sets the scene: the Ancien Régime, July 14, 1789 (taking of the Batille), October 9, 1789 (a delegation of women brings the king back to Paris), June 20, 1792 (the king forced to wear the Phrygian cap), on August 10 of the same year (the assault on the Tuileries) ... This also makes it possible to evoke some key texts such as the Declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen or the Manifesto of Brunswick. This comic is therefore of educational interest even if its format (54 boards) requires some dead ends (September massacres ...). The only embarrassing point is that in the end we never discuss the root causes of the Revolution. If we highlight the unequal society based on the three orders, if we recall the close link between the Monarchy and the Church, if we do not forget the influence of the philosophers of the Enlightenment, there is never any question of the enrichment of the bourgeoisie, of the State debt, of the institutional blockage, of the impossibility of reform in which Louis XVI finds himself or even of the States General! On the other hand, the motivations of each other to lead the kingdom of France into war are better exposed. We are surprised, however, not to hear the discordant voice of Maximilien Robespierre, it would have been a good opportunity to bring in this great figure in our history. So admittedly it is difficult to say all this in a single comic, but it should not be impossible: perhaps with an external narration (we notice that the narration disappears more and more from the historical comics) or quite simply by supplementing the comic book by a small historical file of a few pages as do many publishers.
The drawings are made by Emiliano Zarcone and colored by Dimitri Fogolin. The style is realistic, but there are some approximations. The first vignette (as part of a plate recalling the origins of the French Monarchy) portrays a Clovis carried on his shield by warriors with winged helmets or adorned with horns ... Everyone seems to be seeing these old images that once illustrated manuals schools and classroom walls: the “national novel” spirit is immediately felt! The other plates devoted to the 18th century are more convincing, even if we note some errors and anachronisms: the light cavalry equipped with schakos and not with mirlitons, the flags and the uniform of the carabinieri which are more reminiscent of 1812 than 1792, or the gargoyles of Notre Dame de Paris which are those of Viollet-le-Duc ... Ugo Pinson, who took care of the cover, also seems to have been inspired for one of his sabers, by a saber-lighter more Napoleonic than revolutionary ... The troops engaged or the distance separating the enemy batteries also sometimes lack a little historical accuracy. Nevertheless, these drawings which spare us neither the revolutionary violence, nor that of the combats, manage to create a catchy atmosphere for the reader who lets himself be carried to the sound of the Carmagnole and the cannon! In one go, the neophyte reader will be able to immerse himself in this battle which has become mythical and to retain some essential points: the date of 1792, the names of Dumouriez and Kellermann, the image of the mill at the heart of the fighting, the memory of the importance of artillery and the final results: the French victory, the withdrawal of the Prussian troops, the proclamation of the 1st Republic. If this is the case, this opus will have at least partly succeeded in its popularization mission and, by insisting on this completely revolutionary definition of the Nation, will have brought a key element in the reflection on the French identity which underlies this collection. .
Fields of honor - Valmy September 1792. Editions Delcourt, June 2016.
Screenplay: Thierry Gloris
Drawing: Emiliano Zarcone
Color: Dimitri Fogolin