The lines (le trait) of Cosey

An essay

When I made the first edition of ‘The world of Cosey’ in 2002, I presented dossiers about different characteristics of the art of Cosey, among others on his stories and his colors. Strange enough, there was no dossier on one of the most important aspects of any comic or graphic novel: the drawings. At the time, I could not find the words to say anything about Cosey’s drawings, which are a very unique, immediately recognisable, personal art.

Cosey himself put me on an interesting track to look at his drawings in another way. In an interview he says that his line (I prefer the lovely french word ‘le trait’) is his handwriting; and that these lines should betray some of his personality. Then, the last few years, there have been nice opportunities to study original drawings of Cosey*.

The challenge set by Cosey himself, and the opportunities to study his originals have resulted in this essay. Highly speculative… but, it may be true.

At first sight, the great landscapes and panoramas of Cosey fit his stories neatly: drawings and  stories invite the reader to slow down, to wander across the pages, to lose himself in Cosey’s drawings. Cosey takes his time (and pages) to tell the story: ‘space’ is the word. But if you start looking at Cosey’s lines closely, you will see a line that is angular, lacking fluidity or souplesse; lines that suddenly change in thickness, indicating that he artist has interrupted drawing the line and then continued it; when I imagine Cosey at work I see a nervous, restless artist rather than a zen-like artist, sitting on his mountain, his head in the clouds, drawing his comics, completely at peace with himself and the world around him.

Next to this nervosity, the lines betray the energy, the effort Cosey puts into his work. The lack of souplesse in the lines makes that round shapes seem to be build up of short, straight lines; you can almost see the effort made by the artist to ‘keep the line’. In the latest albums (Bouddha d’Azur) you can see many places where the lines ‘split’ (where the two halves of the inking pen have come apart), indicating Cosey is holding his pen firmly, and is pushing it on the paper.

Do these apparent nervosity and effort show an insecurity of Cosey as a drawing artist? On the Swiss television he called himself a ‘dessinateur besogneux’ (a laborious artist), who is not particularly gifted for drawing. But at the same time, the lines show Cosey’s determination to get his drawings right.

The preparatory sketches of Cosey clearly show this determination. Looking at sketches of comic artists like Hergé, Franquin or Cosey’s ‘teacher’ Derib, you will see a whirl of gray lines, starting with light touches and then darker and darker when artist has come nearer to the ideal line. However, the  sketches of Cosey that we know, are almost a perfect black-and-white; there is practically no difference between these sketches and the inked drawing. For example, every fold in clothing is exactly sketched and then inked. I suppose these sketches are the latest stages of a creative process, but they show that Cosey does not want to leave anything to chance when he starts inking.

To me, the lines of Cosey – his handwriting – show the effort, the energy Cosey puts into his work; his lines reflect his creative nervosity. They underline his ambition to make ‘the album of the century’.

* I visited the great exposition in Charleroi (2006) and after the edition of ‘Echo’ (2007), I visited the splendid little shop of Daniel Maghen in Paris, where many originals drawings could (and can still) be seen (I also saw a smaller ‘Echo’-exposition in ‘Brüsel’). Other great opportunities have been the exposition in Lausanne (2007) and the ‘traditional’ Cosey expos in the Lausanne comic shop Raspoutine, whenever a new album appears. To examine Cosey’s drawings closely, I can also recommend the beautiful large album editions published by Lombard (Jonathan 6 and 12) and Raspoutine (Jonathan 13 and Le Bouddha d’Azur).