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From Darkness to Deep Blue, Ailefroide: the Mountain as a Reflection to Existence

Dorothée Fournier
Cet article est une traduction de :
De l’obscurité au bleu intense, Ailefroide : la montagne comme un écho à l’existence

Texte intégral

Ailefroide altitude 3954, by Jean-Marc Rochette and Olivier Bocquet. Front cover

Ailefroide altitude 3954, by Jean-Marc Rochette and Olivier Bocquet. Front cover

© Éditions Casterman S.A. Jean-Marc Rochette. http://www.casterman.com/​

  • 1 Jean-Marc Rochette illustrated Transperceneige (Snowpiercer). The complete set that came out in 201 (...)
  • 2 In spite of a vague definition, the term “graphic novel” conveys a sense of nonconformism. It conta (...)

1Ailefroide (literally “cold wing”). With such an ethereal title, the reader would expect lovely pages of adventures on the mountains, in keeping with climbing tales such as Premier de cordée or Les Hauts-Lieux. The graphic atmosphere strongly differentiates from the post-apocalyptic universe of Transperceneige (Snowpiercer)1. However, Jean-March Rochette’s story is connected to his previous work by small hints. He notably chose to carry on the path of the graphic novel2, praised by the upholders of the American counterculture of the 1960s.

2What does it mean to be 20 years old in 1976? The novel draws its strength from the story of a teenager confronted with his own decisions, in relation to his schooling and his future. Rochette offers an autobiographical piece of work, the storyline takes its place in the geographic and historical reality. The reader accustomed to the area will know of the described places: the museum of Grenoble, the Trois Tours (three towers), the climbing routes in Fontaine above the industrial area where many Grenoblois began their alpinism career, the house in Livet, the bridge on the Rive in Bourg d’Oisans, the Chateau de la Muzelle in Bourg d’Arud, and the well-known face of Jules Carrel, who was the mayor of Saint-Christophe-en-Oisans for 40 years. The tale unfolds through the Romanche and the Vénéon valleys, in the Dauphiné Alps and especially in Oisans, all the while bearing a strong symbolic significance ; for the collective memory remembers some ascents as emblems that punctuate the history of alpinism.

Jean-Marc Rochette. Paysage de l’Oisans, watercolor, 2017

Jean-Marc Rochette. Paysage de l’Oisans, watercolor, 2017

Jean-Marc Rochette, 2017.

  • 3 Massif to which a watershed such as the Oisans area belongs to.

3Over the course of the tale, the reader learns about the major climbing routes of the Massif des Écrins3. The names of the alpinists who achieved the first ascents turn into incantations: the Mayer-Dibona route, the Devies-Gervasutti, the Madier crack, the Frendo pillar, the Walter Bonatti. This is a way to question mankind’s place within its environment.

Figure 3. Ailefroide altitude 3954. Plate page 120

Figure 3. Ailefroide altitude 3954. Plate page 120

© Éditions Casterman S.A. Jean-Marc Rochette. http://www.casterman.com/​

4The author ascribes initiatory properties to the mountain. It dazzles him, brings a new perspective to the way he sees things and permeates him with a certain dramaturgy. Starting with the front cover of the graphic novel, the character faces a wall embodying the dichotomy between the remarkable and steep size of the mountain face and the smallness of mankind.

  • 4 Painting by Chaïm Soutine, 1926 (Smilavichy, Belarus, 1893 – Paris, 1943).
  • 5 Interview with Jean-Marc Rochette in Oisans, on August 14 2018.
  • 6 This both meant going against the cultural pattern of society and practicing an activity which was (...)

5As a child, Jean-Marc Rochette was fascinated with Carcass of Beef4, and the work of art sets the tone for the whole story. “You gotta take your guts out”, say the alpinists, flirting with life and death, committed to an extreme route5. The dream of Icarus can shatter to pieces while attempting to reject social boundaries6, at the risk of confronting oneself to a deadly experience. Thus, through the practice of alpinism and mountaineering, one can make out a harsh notion of existence. Just as with life, the mountain is an unpredictable ordeal. Its double status, both sacred and fiendish, selects a few individuals and excludes the vast majority of humans, which is demonstrated by the death of many friends of Jean-Marc, whose lives were taken by the mountains. As Jean-Paul Bozonnet theorized it, when on the mountain, people maintain social links before being connected with nature itself. These relations are dominated by a constant tension between competition and friendship, strengthened by the ordeals experienced on the mountain. Faced with the necessary discipline and boarding school windows which embody order, the elevation through alpinism evokes emancipation. When Jean-Marc pulls his mother back into line while ascending Coolidge Peak, he changes status and becomes a man.

Figure 3. Ailefroide altitude 3954. Plate page 65

Figure 3. Ailefroide altitude 3954. Plate page 65

© Éditions Casterman S.A. Jean-Marc Rochette. http://www.casterman.com/​

  • 7 After several public protests against the building of the Superphénix nuclear power station, whose (...)
  • 8 Quote from an interview with Jean-Marc Rochette (summer 2018).
  • 9 Ibidem.

6Does loving the mountain mean keeping one’s distance from human love? Tragic events (the bloody protest in Creys-Malville7, a very real disease) toughen Jean-Marc up. His father died in Algeria (this is all we know about it). His mother was a feminist with a firm personality who decided to rip him from the cocoon he was living in (Jean-Marc was staying with his grand-parents) to raise him on her own. The two of them have fruitless interactions and those will remain as such until her death: “we never managed to let our guard down”8. This does not make things easier. These two beings in permanent conflict embody two different types of France, two generations: the past one and the future one. His distant mother is the one who paradoxically gets him acquainted with art and mountaineering, by obliging him to go with her. This first experience is an elation that can be compared to that of Léon Zwingelstein’s. “The mountain vagabond”, as he was sometimes called, was a student in Grenoble and felt the same thing when he reached the summit of the Tête de la Maye. These discoveries have a great influence over the rest of the tale. Overall, the story is that of all the young working-class Grenoblois climbers of the 1970s, who wanted to become mountain guides, “since you gotta make a living”9. The transition from teenage carefreeness to the resignation of adulthood turns out to be a hardship.

  • 10 Alpinism term. List of ascents that can be made for oneself or as a requirement to apply for an Asp (...)

7With the Trente Glorieuses coming to an end and the rise of a politicized environmental movement, the reader learns about the crisis that the French youth are going through, while being in an awkward position with the cultural pattern of society and in the dark regarding its future prospects. At long last, Rochette recounts how to come to terms with adversity. Although the north face was not on his routes list10, Ailefroide builds a bridge between his two passions: drawing and the mountains, as can be seen with the discreet dedication to his mother, who taught him how to endure life and the remarkable postscript by Bernard Amy, mountaineer, writer and research worker. Rochette’s gorgeous landscapes are astounding, with spectacular shades and monochromes. Although the characters’ faces are not very detailed, he succeeds in conveying each and every expression, from suffering to ecstasy. His work is a subtle combination between the universality of the theme, text, sketch, color and page layout. Despite the element of surprise symbolized by the intensity of the deep mountain blue, Rochette performs a master stroke and delivers a work that will go down in history.

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Bibliographie

Bocquet Olivier et Rochette Jean-Marc, Snowpiercer: Terminus. Vol.3, Titan Comics, 2016, 232 p.

Bozonnet Jean-Paul, Des monts et des mythes l’imaginaire social de la montagne, Grenoble, Presses universitaires de Grenoble, coll. « Montagnes », 1992, 294 p.

Desorbay Michel, Les Hauts Lieux, Les Éditions de Belledonne, 2003, 159 p.

Dieterlen Jacques, Le Chemineau de la montagne : Léon Zwingelstein, Lagny, impr. E. Grévin et fils, 1938, 269 p.

Frison-Roche Roger, Premier de cordée, Grenoble, Arthaud, 1941, 381 p.

Frison-Roche Roger, First on the rope, Prentice-Hall, 1950, 246 p.

Gaumer Patrick, Dictionnaire mondial de la BD, Paris, Larousse, 2010, 953‑96 p.

Jail Marcel, « Les sociétés sportives d’alpinisme et les refuges de montagne dans les Alpes françaises depuis 1874 », Revue de géographie alpine, 1975, vol. 63, no 1, pp. 5‑50.

Joon-ho Bong, Snowpiercer : Le Transperceneige, 2013. (Film)

Legrand Benjamin et Rochette Jean-Marc, Snowpiercer: The Explorers. Vol.2, Titan Comics, 2014, 144 p.

Lob Jacques et Rochette Jean-Marc, Snowpiercer: The Escape. Vol.1, Titan Comics, 2014, 112 p.

Lob Jacques, Rochette Jean-Marc et Legrand Benjamin, Transperceneige intégrale, Paris, Casterman, 2014, 250‑23 p.

Rochette Jean-Marc et Bocquet Olivier, Transperceneige Terminus, Bruxelles, Casterman, 2015, 222‑10 p.

Rochette Jean-Marc et Bocquet Olivier, Ailefroide altitude 3954, Paris, Casterman, 2018, 284‑9 p.

Rochette Jean-Marc et Lob Jacques, Le Transperceneige, Paris, Casterman, coll. « Les romans (À suivre) », 1984, 134 p.

Sibille Josselin, « Le vert et le rouge, l’émergence du mouvement écologiste à Grenoble 1974-1976 », Presses universitaires de Grenoble, 2013, « La Pierre et l’écrit », pp. 177‑201.

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Notes

1 Jean-Marc Rochette illustrated Transperceneige (Snowpiercer). The complete set that came out in 2014 in France contains the three original volumes of the Snowpiercer saga: Transperceneige (The Snowpiercer) (1984) which was retitled L’Échappée (The Escape) in 1999, L’Arpenteur (The Explorers) (1999) and La Traversée (The Crossing) (2000). The graphic novel was translated into English in 2014, consisting of two volumes: Snowpiercer: The Escape and Snowpiercer: The Explorers. Despite its title, the second volume also contains The Crossing. Terminus, the final volume was released in 2016.

2 In spite of a vague definition, the term “graphic novel” conveys a sense of nonconformism. It contains many more pages than a traditional comic book and the page layout (the text-to-drawing ratio) is quite free. From the 2000s onwards, the “graphic novel” designation establishes itself as a generic category.

3 Massif to which a watershed such as the Oisans area belongs to.

4 Painting by Chaïm Soutine, 1926 (Smilavichy, Belarus, 1893 – Paris, 1943).

5 Interview with Jean-Marc Rochette in Oisans, on August 14 2018.

6 This both meant going against the cultural pattern of society and practicing an activity which was then the preserve of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. In the 1960s, the recruitment of alpinists expands to other social classes. With the advent of “mass” alpinism, a working-class practice comes into existence through many climbers’ associations.

7 After several public protests against the building of the Superphénix nuclear power station, whose construction work began in July 1976 on the Malville site in the commune of Creys-et-Pusigneux, tens of thousands of protesters gathered on July 31 1977. Many people were hurt in the brutal confrontations with the police and this eventually led to the death of one of the protesters. This demonstration ultimately became the symbol of the European anti-nuclear movement.

8 Quote from an interview with Jean-Marc Rochette (summer 2018).

9 Ibidem.

10 Alpinism term. List of ascents that can be made for oneself or as a requirement to apply for an Aspirant-Guide Fundamentals Course at the ENSA (Ecole Nationale de Ski et d’Alpinisme/French National School of Skiing and Mountaineering).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Ailefroide altitude 3954, by Jean-Marc Rochette and Olivier Bocquet. Front cover
Crédits © Éditions Casterman S.A. Jean-Marc Rochette. http://www.casterman.com/​
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rga/docannexe/image/4995/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 787k
Titre Jean-Marc Rochette. Paysage de l’Oisans, watercolor, 2017
Crédits Jean-Marc Rochette, 2017.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rga/docannexe/image/4995/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 3,2M
Titre Figure 3. Ailefroide altitude 3954. Plate page 120
Crédits © Éditions Casterman S.A. Jean-Marc Rochette. http://www.casterman.com/​
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rga/docannexe/image/4995/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 1,5M
Titre Figure 3. Ailefroide altitude 3954. Plate page 65
Crédits © Éditions Casterman S.A. Jean-Marc Rochette. http://www.casterman.com/​
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rga/docannexe/image/4995/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 1,4M
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Référence électronique

Dorothée Fournier, « From Darkness to Deep Blue, Ailefroide: the Mountain as a Reflection to Existence », Journal of Alpine Research | Revue de géographie alpine [En ligne], Montagnes en fictions, mis en ligne le 01 novembre 2018, consulté le 14 novembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/rga/4995

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Auteur

Dorothée Fournier

Researcher and teacher in history and sociology of Sport, UFRAPS Grenoble, Laboratoire SENS, associated to LARHRA and member of Labex Item.
dorothee.fournier@univ-grenoble-alpes.fr

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Licence Creative Commons
La Revue de Géographie Alpine est mise à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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