While French comics have been enjoying attention in the US as far back the 1970s when Metal Hurlant was brought to over as Heavy Metal, there is still much in the world of "bandes dessinées" that has not crossed American eyes. Zep (real name Philippe Chappuis) is a Swiss born author whose work is wildly successful in France, thanks to his raunchy humor, cartoonish art, and a general disregard for authority. Yet he remains an unknown the United States. Zep’s career in comics dates back to the 1980s when he was a contributor to the anthology magazine Spirou. His long running comic, Titeuf, a bestseller in France, follows the escapades of a young boy with an oddly shaped head as he navigates life, school, adolescence, first loves, and parents. The series suffers from a particular conundrum of having humor too risque for children in the U.S., but it is also too kid-centric to appeal to older audiences here either.
Zep is known primarily for his comedic works such as Happy Parents, Happy Sex, and Titeuf, but his first English release in many years is the weighty A Story of Men from IDW. A Story of Men follows a could-have-been rock band, as they have a reunion with their former band leader who has enjoyed success while the rest of the ensemble drifted off into obscurity. While Titeuf is drawn in vivid primaries, A Story of Men opts for muted greys, occasionally mixed with hints of blue or magenta with paneling mostly contained to a 3x3 grid. While Titeuf is influenced by comedic French comic artists such as Gotlib, A Story of Men pulls from the tradition of new wave cinema and directors such as François Truffaut and the art drops cartoony visuals in favor of moody realism. While the visuals and the tone of A Story of Men is totally removed from that of Titeuf, it still embodies themes and motifs explored in Zep's more comedic works, namely adulthood, fatherhood, sex, relationships, and the nature of (and compromises with) rebellion.
I met with Zep at his hotel near Grand Central Terminal, where this interview was shot overlooking the grey and wet streets of Midtown. Zep shared his thoughts on the transgressive nature of childhood and how it’s reflected in Titeuf, and his depiction of sexuality within his work how it became a mission in life.
This interview was conducted by Renzo Adler and Brad Balfour.