Le Monde Sans Fin exhibition

Le Monde Sans Fin Exhibition
Institut Francais D’Ecosse, until 10th May (free)

I’m sure some readers even in the Anglosphere will be familiar with the name Christophe Blain,  the Angoulême-winning (for Isaac the Pirate, and, with Abel Lanzac, for Quai d’Orsay) French comics creator who has also created works with some of the greats of the Franco-Belgian bande dessinee scene, such as Lewis Trondheim and David B. For Le Monde Sans Fin (World Without End), published in 2021 by Dargaud, Bain collaborated with environmental scientist Jean-Marc Jancovici to explore one of the burning issues that hangs over the heads of every person on our planet, a Sword of Damocles of our own making – climate change, its impact, our own responsibility for it, the truths and distortions over the arguments made on climate change, and what we can potentially do to help decrease the serious consequences.

The album has been an enormous best-seller in the French language for Dargaud, selling in excess of 800, 000 copies, a figure most of our friends in the English-language comics world can only dream of. The free exhibition is fairly small, just one room, but still very much well worth a visit if you are in Edinburgh (the Institut Francais is in the French Consulate, which is in a handsome building right next to historic Saint Giles Cathedral, right by the Royal Mile). It has been arranged quite cleverly – instead of just reproducing artwork from the pages, or presenting initial sketches next to finished works, we are taken around the room, broken into four sub-themes from the book, plus an introduction and conclusion:

Introduction – Le Monde sans fin

Thème 1 : L’énergie a façonné notre monde actuel (How energy has shaped our world)

Thème 2 : Le Climat : qu’est ce qui va arriver ? (Climate – what is going to happen?)

Thème 3 : Notre alimentation a un impact (Our food makes an impact)

Thème 4 : Sans avion, sans voiture, on va se déplacer comment ? (How can we get around without using planes and cars?)

Each of these section showcases panels with Jancovici explaining the issues and problems to Blain; Jancovici is shown in a more realistic fashion, while Blain depicts himself in a far more cartoony version, large-nosed, reminding me just a little of Dupuy and Berberian’s Monsieur Jean character. This continues in the discussion panels – while the text and illustrations convey serious information in an accessible manner, Blain lightens the mood a little (this is, after all, very heavy subject matter) with his own cartoon avatar with touches of visual humour here and there, which I appreciated (also some of those single panel images were just some damned nice cartooning, a single depiction of his character getting over several ideas from one picture in a way anyone would understand).

Walking through the various displays effectively takes us through a capsule version of the book, seeing the scientist and artist engaging in a conversation, Blain’s character our everyman stand-in, there to ask the needed questions that Jancovici tries to give him in a way that is understandable to anyone. Yes, it can be quite heavy, and of course it can easily lead to a certain fatalism and despair that I’m sure many of us have experienced when considering this issue, not least the feeling that governments in collusion with greedy giant corporations will obstruct changes we desperately need to stave off disaster for as long as they can make obscene levels of profits, consequences be damned.

But, as I said, Blain tries to temper this with some smile-inducing cartooning worked into the seriously heavyweight discussion, and there are are also hints in there that yes, we have made a mess, we’re still making it, but we’re an adaptable, clever species and if we put our collective minds and wills to it, we can change things. It’s one of the most important issues facing us globally today, and one which will impact generations to come even more, so it is important reading and no bad thing to invite informed contemplation of the issues. We were talking to a member of staff, who mentioned to us that the reactions children visiting had was very different to the adults – the children mostly looked at these issues then, with simple child logic, asked if we know these are the things going wrong, why don’t adults just fix them? A good question…

Le Monde sans fin by Jean-Marc Jancovici and Christophe Blain is published by Dargaud, with an English-language edition coming from Particular Books in September 2024. La Belle Adventure, who helped with the exhibition, are currently running pop-up stalls at the Leith street market and the Stockbridge street market in Edinburgh, while hoping to open a permanent shop selling French and English-language graphic novels (I was lucky enough to buy some French BD from them recently); meantime you can follow them on Instagram. My French is far from perfect, so apologies for anything I didn’t translate quite right here! While the exhibition itself is in French, there are also accompanying English-language translations.

This review was originally penned for Down the Tubes