Quai d’Orsay, vol. 1

Summary: Young Arthur Vlaminck is hired as speechwriter by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Taillard de Worms. But it’s necessary to find a place between the cabinet director and the advisers who gravitate in a Quai d’Orsay where stress, ambition and underhandedness are not uncommon…

Inspired by the experiences of Abel Lanzac who was a cabinet adviser, this album provides an acute and humourous vision of politics. A pure treat!

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Quai d’Orsay, vol. 1, by Abel Lanzac and Christophe Blain 7.5

Quai d’Orsay is one of the main arteries of Paris. It’s also the site of the French Foreign Ministry. ‘Quai D’Orsay’ is a comic strip drawn by Christophe Blain that is based on French diplomat Antonin Baudry’s experiences working under Dominique de Villepin for the Foreign Ministry.

Set shortly after September 11, 2001, it finds university student Arthur Vlaminck being hired as a speechwriter by Taillard de Vorms, an ambitious Minister who wants to show the world that France is the only answer to the so-called barbaric sentiments on display in the United States.

It illustrates the madness of working for a Minister quite well: endless speech rewrites after muddy instructions and seemingly random decision-making. To say that it’s a rough ride is an understatement; frankly, I don’t quite understand why our protagonist insists on holding on.

What could he possible hope to gain or prove by withstanding this chaos?

Interestingly, he eventually begins to believe that the Minister is working from an alternative reality, where no one understands him even though he’s always right. He becomes so convinced of de Vorms’ worth that he slaves away for him and even tries to convince his disgruntled girlfriend.

Needless to say, the book is intended as satire, but it might prove a bit dry for some: without an understanding of the intricacies of political life and bureaucracy, some ironies and absurdities might escape readers. It could easily appear like a plain recounting of actual events.

Still, it remains an interesting story, driven as it is by the explosive, egomaniacal, blathering, incoherent de Vorms, who is larger than life even though he’s inspired by it. He’s a person who should easily be dismissed as insincere, incompetent, a joke – and yet he wins people over.

His ever-suffering Chief of Staff, Claude Maupas, is also an enjoyable character, if only because it’s amazing to watch him keep his cool under intense pressure situations, trying to mitigate the damage being done by his boss and even bringing sanity to his views and agenda.

The relatively large book, the first of two volumes, isn’t your average graphic novel, nor is it your standard comic strip collection. Instead, it falls somewhere in between the two, being broken into a series of small chapters, each with titles culled from Heraclitus of Ephesus.

…which de Vorms quotes regularly to prove his intellectual heft.

Christophe Blain does an adequate job of bringing Vlaminck’s misadventures to life, but his style is very sketchy and not especially appealing to the eye. Interestingly, he gets first billing over Baudry (a.k.a. Abel Balzac), even though the substance of the book is in its texts.

Anyway, ‘Quay d’Orsay’ is an amusing read, though I find the language a bit challenging given that it’s French-French, not Franco-Ontarian French or Québécois; I’m sure that I’m missing a lot of the finer aspects of the humour because of this and my limited grasp of French politics.

Still, I very much look forward to reading the concluding volume.

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