A young man with a Mohawk stands at the top of the Louvre's grand staircase and strikes a gong, awakening the rebellious spirit in great works of art. François-Joseph Bosio's sculpture of a ten-year-old Henri IV runs through a gallery. The Winged Victory of Samothrace explodes into flight.
A heavy-metal blur of collaged drawings, engravings, and digital images, Eric Liberge's graphic novel On the Odd Hours presents the Louvre in an imaginative way. Liberge's tale follows the deaf student Bastien's induction into a mysterious order of night guards, whose job involves letting the Louvre's works come alive when no one is looking. The book is one in a series, totaling four to date, published by the museum and French graphic-novel house Futuropolis. The ComicsLit imprint of the New York graphic-novel house NBM, which publishes the series in English translation, will release On the Odd Hours in April.
The entire venture was the brainchild of Fabrice Douar, deputy director of the Louvre's publishing division (Musée du Louvre Éditions). It is in step, he notes, with the goal set by Louvre director Henri Loyrette to bring contemporary art, and a younger audience, to a museum whose collection officially ends in 1848. "The graphic novel is heir to the classical art of drawing," says Douar. "We wanted, in part, to shake up the dusty image of the museum by inviting people to see the back-and-forth between contemporary art and our collections."
The authors hired to write the series were given carte blanche, except for one requirement: the Louvre would have to serve as the foundation, not merely the backdrop, of the stories.
Nicolas de Crécy's Glacial Period was the first in the series to be published, in 2005. In Glacial Period, which portrays a future in which the earth is buried under snow and ice, a team of explorers uncovers the museum and attempts to interpret its contents. Marc-Antoine Mathieu's The Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert is a philosophical tale that twists and turns through unexamined corners of both museum and art history. Le Ciel au-dessus du Louvre (The Sky above the Louvre), released in 2009, is set in 1793, at the moment in the French Revolution when the Louvre was taken over by the people. The story, about the relationship between Robespierre and painter Jacques-Louis David, was written by acclaimed screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière and drawn by Bernar Yslaire.
English translations are available for de Crécy's and Mathieu's books, while the one by Yslaire and Carrière will be published in English in 2011. Six more books have been planned, including Hirohiko Araki's Rohan au Louvre (Rohan at the Louvre). The first manga dedicated to the museum, it will be published in France this year, with the English translation scheduled for release in 2012.
In 2009, the Louvre showed art from the series, along with a video of several of the artists at work, in the exhibition "The Louvre Invites the Comics." A smaller, traveling show will be on view March 4 to March 8 at the Foire du Livre in Brussels. Exhibitions are also being planned in Tokyo and Saint Petersburg.
The authors each received a day pass to the Louvre to conduct their research, but Liberge wanted to see the museum at night. "At first they said no," he recalls, "but I insisted." Liberge toured the museum with flashlight in hand. "When you see the play of light on the three dimensions of the sculpture, it's easy to fall into the fantastical," he says.