Illustration Art Gallery

The very best from the wide, sometimes overlooked, world of illustration art, including original artwork for book illustrations and covers, comic books and comic strips, graphic novels, magazines, film animation cels, newspaper strips, poster art, album covers, plus superb fine art reproductions and high quality art prints.

Our gallery brings together artists from all over the world and from many backgrounds, including fantasy, horror, romance, science fiction, education, sport, history, nature, technology, humour, glamour, architecture, film & tv, whimsy, even political satire and caricature.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Enki Bilal

Enki Bilal is one of the leading graphic novelists to come out of Europe in the past forty years. Still very active, he has occasionally left the field for movies, but has always returned to create something memorable. Although his work has rarely appeared in the UK (although many of his albums are available in English language translation), his work has been championed by Paul Gravett, who says: "Bilal’s visions reveal a decadent dystopia, overwhelming and baroque, inspired by directors like Andrei Tarkowsky of Solaris and Stalker. His plotting is dense, unpredictable, and really repays close attention. There is also a dark, absurdist humour, from the freakish make-up of politicians and the stripped alien cat Gogol to the world chess-boxing championships."

Bilal was president of the 14th Salon International de la Bande Dessinée at Angoulême in 1987. His exhibitions have included two months at the Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris in 1991-92 and he was asked to illustrate a stamp in 2006.

Bilal was born Enes Bilalović in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, on 7 October 1951. His Bosniak father was the tailor to Marshal Tito, Yugoslavia's prime minister and, from 1953, president, and his mother a Slovakian. The young Bilal's twin passions were drawing and the cinema, especially westerns, and these were combined in a movie that he starred in at the age of nine. A short film, it concerned two youngsters from rival gangs who wandered around Belgrade, stopping to sketch out battles between cowboys and indians in chalk on the pavements. The film was never completed: Bilal's family moved to Paris in 1960. At the time, families were prohibited from going into exile and Bilal revealed to a teacher at school that he was shortly to be joining his father in France. Fortunately, the teacher had an eye on their apartment and helped hasten the family's departure. Bilal became a naturalized French citizen in 1967.

Five years later, he met the editors of Pilote, René Goscinny (author of Asterix and Lucky Luke) and Jean-Michel Charlier. Goscinny encouraged him to apply his artistic talents to comics. Bilal studied briefly (three months) at the École des Beaux-Artes, at the same time submitting work to Pilote, where his first published story, 'La Bal Maudit', appeared in 1972.

He began contributing science fiction stories regularly, later collected in Mémoires d'outre-espace, Histoires courtes 1974-1977 (Memories From Outer Space, 1978), although he was sidelined into producing pages of topical humor on current affairs and caricatures for the weekly paper.

His breakthrough came when he began working with Pierre Christin. Their early collaborations included Légendes d'Aujourd'hui [Legends of Today], a linked series of dark, haunting tales, La Croisière des oubliés (The Cruise of Lost Souls, 1975; serialised as 'The Voyage of Those Forgotten', Heavy Metal, 1982), Le Vaisseau de pierre (Ship of Stone, 1976; serialised as 'Progress!', Heavy Metal, 1980) and La ville qui n'existait pas (The Town That Didn't Exist, 1977; serialised as 'The City That Didn't Exist', Heavy Metal, 1983), each set in a different town threatened by mysterious forces – military testing, developers and multinationals – which were later collected as Townscapes (2004).

Bilal became associated with the French magazine Metal Hurlant, and its American counterpart, Heavy Metal, where many of his stories appeared over the next few decades. Serials in Heavy Metal – including Exterminator 17 (1979, written by Jean-Pierre Dionnet), the three volumes of Legends of Today, two volumes of the Nikopol trilogy and The Hunting Party (1983) – introduced Bilal to a wider English-speaking audience than most European creators enjoyed.

Bilal's popularity in Europe had grown considerably with the publication of the political thriller Les Phalanges de l'ordre noir (The Black Order Brigade, 1979), about the revenge sought by a group of former comrades from the International Brigade following a terrorist bombing in a Basque village. The book won the 1980 Prix RTL for best adult graphic novel.

La Foire aux immortels (The Carnival of Immortals, 1980; serialised as 'The Immortals' Fete', Heavy Metal, 1981) introduced the character of Alcide Nikopol, who finds himself in a future Paris ruled over by a corrupt, fascist dictator bent on gaining immortality from Egyptian gods travelling in an alien spaceship. Nikopol allows himself to be taken over by a disillusioned Horus. In its sequel, La Femme piège (The Woman Trap, 1986; as 'The Trapped Woman', Heavy Metal, 1986), Horus is trapped in a block of concrete while Nikopol has been admitted into a psychiatric hospital, although their lives are about to become entangled with that of a London reporter, Jill Bioskop. The third volume of this trilogy was published as Froid Équateur (Cold Equator, 1992).

Bilal had, meanwhile, received rave reviews for Partie de chasse (The Hunting Party, 1983), written by Christin, about a group of aging Soviet political leaders who plot the death of a politician whilst reminiscing about their growing disillusion with the Russian socialist dream.

Meanwhile, Bilal had become involved in the film industry as the production and costume designer for La vie est un roman (1983), directed by Alain Resnais, having earlier designed a poster for Resnais' My American Uncle (1980). He was subsequently asked to design a creature for Michael Mann's The Keep (1983) and  do graphic research for Jean-Jacques Annaud's The Name of the Rose (1986) and designed the sets and costumes for the show OPA Mia (1990) by Denis Levaillant and the ballet Romeo and Juliet (1991) based on Prokofiev and choreographed by Angelin Preljocaj.

His graphic novels continued to appear, including Los Angeles - L'Étoile oubliée de Laurie Bloom (Los Angeles - The Forgotten Star of Laurie Bloom, 1984) by Pierre Christin, Hors Jeu (Off Play, 1987, by Patrick Cauvin), Coeurs sanglants et autres faits divers (Bleeding Hearts and Other Stories, 1988) written by Pierre Christin and Bleu Sang (Blue Blood, 1994).

In 1989 he directed the futuristic, post-apocalyptic movie Bunker Palace Hôtel, co-written with Christin, where the elite of a totalitarian regime have fled to an ancient underground bunker to escape from rebels; amongst them, a spy (Carole Bouquet) observes the power struggle as they await the arrival of their leader.

Bilal's other excursions into movies have been equally divisive. As the reviewer of Tykho Moon (1996) said: "The film has admirable art direction but no narrative or directional discipline. Like his earlier effort Bunker Palace Hotel, pic seems destined for Bilal fans only, plus a few comic-strip festivals." Tykho Moon was another futuristic thriller, featuring an aging dictator on the verge of death. His soldiers seek out Tykho Moon, who unwillingly donated brain cells years earlier. Tykho – actually an artist named Anikst – suffers from amnesia and is unaware that he is being sought. The film received a Special Mention at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film in 1997.

Bilal returned to graphic novels with Le sommeil du monstre (The Dormant Beast, 1998), the first of four volumes that tell the story of the downfall of a futuristic Yugoslavia split by wars in the 1990s. Three further volumes appeared to make up the Tétralogie du Monstre series: 32 Décembre (December 32nd, 2003), Rendez-vous à Paris (2006) and Quatre? (Four?, 2007).

Stand-alone titles published in the same period have included Un siècle d'Amour (A century of Love , 1999), by Dan Franck, Magma (2000) and Le Sarcophage (The Sarcophagus, 2001). In 2004, his film Immortel (Ad Vitam) was released, based on the first two Nikopol graphic novel (La Foire aux immortels and La Femme piège) with the action transferred to New York. The film was created in CG Animation using motion capture and was again met with mixed reviews that felt it was both inventive and incoherent.

Bilal's recent work has included Animal´z (2009), about a variety of survivors of global warming, Julia & Roem (2011) and Les Fantômes du Louvre (Ghosts of the Louvre, 2012).

The boxing scenes in Bilal's book Froid Équateur (1992) inspired performance artist Iepe Rubingh to organize the first chess-boxing bout – six rounds of chess plus five rounds of boxing – in Amsterdam in November 2003 (which Iepe won). The World Chess Boxing Organization continues to support championship fights of the hybrid sport around the world.

Examples of Bilal's artwork can be found for sale at the Illustration Art Gallery.

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