The Hunchback of Montfaucon: a second life for Quasimodo –

And if Quasimodo, the most famous of the hunchbacks, had not died in the cellars of Montfaucon in 1482 as described in the novel Notre Dame of Paris of Victor Hugo? It’s the premise of the comic The Hunchback of Montfauconwhose story is divided into two volumes.

Following the death of Louis XI, his son Charles VIII, who is only fourteen years old, officially reigns over France, but it is his older sister, Anne de Beaujeu, who pulls the strings, a situation causing enormous frustration. among the nobility of the country. Stripped of his titles and his lands and determined to avenge his father, assassinated despite his capitulation, Pierre, the bastard son of the Duke of Armagnac, then went to Montfaucon where, grieving over the loss of the gypsy Esmeralda, Quasimodo let die of grief. Befriending the hunchback and hiring him as a henchman, the fallen noble then decided to lend a hand to Louis d’Orléans, the heir to the crown after Charles VIII, in order to help him take the power. The first mission of the group will be to get their hands on two letters proving that Louis is the son of the groom, Bayonne, and not of the King, which would put a stop to his claims to the throne, but they are not the only ones to covet these documents. compromising.

The covers of the two volumes

With The Hunchback of Montfauconscreenwriter Philippe Pelaez (to whom we owe the album coup-de-poing In my village, we ate cats) inserts Quasimodo into the heart of very real events, namely the Mad War, a conflict that took place between 1485 and 1488 and in which a coalition of lords opposed Anne Beaujeu, then regent of France. Although it includes a fictional character, the comic strip is not an alternate history, since all the facts related therein are absolutely true. This historical intrigue is so dense and dense that each of the two volumes of the series begins with a description of the protagonists, and a summary of this tortuous conflict between members of the nobility. The narrative could have been wordy if Pelaez had not mastered the art of dialogue and formula as well. Speaking of the hunchback, for example, he writes “This arched back is that of an Atlas capable of supporting a sky of suffering on its own”. What a beautiful pen!

The two volumes of Hunchback of Montfaucon allow us to penetrate to the heart of the intrigues of the Court, forced marriages, and ephemeral alliances being made and undone according to the fluctuations of power. The comic counters this with plenty of action scenes featuring the hunchback, who scales castle walls, sneaks into ship holds, and fights with the strength of fifteen men. It is therefore a clever mix of underhanded diplomacy and swashbuckling adventures. The author obviously loves symmetry. It is not one, but two bastards who will ally against the French monarchy. Through the character of Jeanne la lame, the younger sister of Anne de Beaujeu whom Louis XI married to Louis d’Orléans in the hope of extinguishing her lineage since he thought it sterile, he creates a female alter-ego in Quasimodo. Moreover, as her marriage was never consummated and her husband despises her, the young woman, who dreams of a male embrace, will even fall in love with the hunchback.

The Hunchback of Montfaucon a second life for Quasimodo
A page from the first volume

With more than forty albums to his credit since 1989, designer Éric Stalner has developed a visual style of great richness and quality. It reproduces in detail the emblematic places of the end of the 15th century in France in The Hunchback of Montfaucon, including the Nantes cathedral under construction, Notre-Dame de Paris, or the dungeons of the Château de Loches, where prisoners languish. He injects a pinch of nudity and eroticism into his boards, and does not disdain graphic violence: corpses hung on gibbets and devoured by crows, soldiers massacring civilians in the streets of Lectoure, divination in the bowels of a rabbit, or bloody combats between armies clashing on the battlefield. Far from being caricatural or overly monstrous, his Quasimodo possesses a great deal of humanity. With its hues of ocher, brown, green and gray, Florence Fantini’s earthy coloring contributes to the historical realism of Stalner’s illustrations.

While taking the liberty of giving Quasimodo a second life, The Hunchback of Montfaucon manages to sum up all the complexity of the Mad War that shook France at the end of the 15th century. This is a reading that will appeal to history buffs, and the immortal hunchback created by Victor Hugo.

The Hunchback of Montfaucon – Volume 1: Our Sister, by Philippe Pelaez and Éric Stalner. Published by Grand Angle editions, 64 pages.
The Hunchback of Montfaucon – Volume 2: Our Father, by Philippe Pelaez and Éric Stalner. Published by Grand Angle editions, 64 pages.

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