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Jean-Jacques Audubon in America

Like Lafayette before him, Jean-Jacques Audubon (1785-1851) is one of several French people who are less known in France but who enjoy immense popularity in the United States. The French ornithologist and naturalized U.S. citizen wrote the reference work The Birds of America, and spent the early 19th century exploring the American wilderness of Louisiana, Missouri and Mississippi, where he discovered, painted and recorded different American bird species. The French publishing house Dargaud has paid homage to him in a graphic novel, which was translated in English and published by Nobrow Press on April 4, 2017.

His travels were truly adventurous exploits, during which he often risked his life. His talent as a painter coupled with his scientific rigor fascinated many. Writer Fabien Grolleau and illustrator Jérémie Royer have blended biographical and fictional elements to retrace the incredible steps of John-James Audubon (his naturalized name) across untouched forests, roaring rivers and vast plains populated with bison. While “history remembers him […] as an extraordinary ornithological painter, a pioneering adventurer of nascent America, a writer and one of the fathers of modern American ecology”, writes Fabien Grolleau in the foreword, “the story is of course inspired by his life, but especially by his personal accounts.”

The graphic novel begins at sunset on the banks of the Mississippi in 1820. Audubon is all but motionless as he paints with infinitely intricate details an owl set against a backdrop of foliage. “They can stay like that for hours”, he says excitedly. His assistant Joseph replies: “As can you, sir.” Depicted in the style of a naturalistic western, the stunning work pays homage to the passion of this observer of nature, scientist and artist.

The shots are varied, the drawings are clear and easy to read and the plates are rich and colorful. The graphic novel is also educative, offering a summary biography of Audubon’s life alongside a selection of reproduced works which made him famous in the United States, and which allow the reader to learn a little more about this artistic adventurer.

Audubon, On the Wings of the World, writer Fabien Grolleau, illustrator and colorist Jérémie Royer, Nobrow Press, 184 pages. In English. 22.95 dollars.

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Article published in the June 2016 issue of France-Amérique.

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