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The Other Road: Maximilien Le Roy’s Collaborative Storytelling

By Mercedes Claire Gilliom

I first discovered graphic novelist Maximilien Le Roy through his book Nietzsche: Se Créer Liberté (“The Creation of Freedom”), a graphic-novel biography he wrote in collaboration with French philosopher Michel Onfray. Drawing from a text that Onfray first published as a screenplay, Le Roy’s sensitive depictions contrast passages describing Friedrich Nietzsche’s soaring philosophical idealism with moments of all-too-human vulnerability in the face of difficult personal relationships and illness. As the story touches on episodes from throughout the philosopher’s life, Le Roy manages to telescope the reader’s focus from the intimate to the transcendent in the space of a few frames. The book is strengthened by the artist’s ability to marry his sensitive drawings to Onfray’s vision of Nietzsche as a man who strove to live a that life reflected his own philosophy.

My interest in Le Roy’s work firmly established, I went on to read Les Chemins de Traverse. Published the same year as Nietzsche (2010), Chemins has the same collaborative energy and poignant visual storytelling. Le Roy initiated this project with the Spanish graphic novelist Soulman to tell the stories of individuals on both sides of the Israel-Palestine border. I found the book to be an immediately accessible treatment of the conflict. Too often, when I try to understand what is happening in this region of the world, the mental image I conjure amounts to little more than a relentless volley of opposing vectors of violence and retaliation. The stories in Chemins de Traverse offer a view of the conflict on a more human scale, showing individuals who chose to reach across the divide and acknowledge each other as human beings who are all equally capable of loss, grief, and acceptance.

With the same sensitivity that drew me into the Nietzsche biography, Le Roy and Soulman’s drawings lend immediacy and empathy to the stories, providing a different context for understanding the conflict. Rather than allowing themselves to be swept up in those currents of anger and revenge, the people who shared their stories for this book have chosen to follow a different path, one of forging personal connections with those on the other side of the wall. Their primary means for doing so is telling their stories, thereby encouraging others to join them. In French, a chemin de traverse is an alternate route or shortcut; these stories are all about taking the other road, leading to common ground rather than escalation.

The excerpt that I translated, illustrated by Soulman, is taken from the story of Osama, a Palestinian from the West Bank. His coming-of-age was shaped by several encounters with the occupation forces, including arrests and interrogation, even though he was never involved with the opposition. When a cycle of aggression, violence, and revenge leads to the deaths of two of his wife’s brothers in the space of a year, Osama emerges from the episode deeply embittered; his anger surfaces when he chances on Rami, an Israeli who has come to the West Bank to visit Osama’s brother. What follows is a conversation in which Rami shares his own story of loss, and Osama begins to see his relationship to those on the other side of the wall in a very different light.

Le Roy discovered this story on the website of the Parents Circle Families Forum, the organization that brought together Rami, Osama, and hundreds of other bereaved families from both sides of the conflict. With the organization’s permission, he adapted the account for his book. Once again, the collaborative spirit of Le Roy’s project, bringing several voices and visions together to tell a single story, made for affecting reading. The text is relatively spare, leaving ample room for Soulman’s imagery to tell much of the story. True to the intimate nature of Osama’s account, the narration and dialogue is unassuming and earnest, with a conversational rhythm. My main concern as I translated it was preserving that rhythm, and using language that was as idiomatic and natural as possible in the limited space. As I often do when I’m working with dialogue, this meant reading and re-reading the text aloud during the revision process, and then enlisting a patient friend to read the final draft out loud with me, like a script.

Hopefully, this naturalism—in both words and images—will draw English readers into these deeply personal but universal stories, for a glimpse at how the conflict is experienced by individuals on both sides of the wall, and how those individuals are choosing to step off of the beaten path, to meet one another on the alternate route toward reconciliation.

Published Feb 25, 2015   Copyright 2015 Mercedes Claire Gilliom

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