Beyond the aesthetic shock and the power of the story, what is immediately striking is the scale of the intellectual challenge, and the amount of work deployed by the two authors, Jean-Michel Dupont, ever sharper in the script, and Mezzo, let’s dare to write it, one of the world’s best cartoonists. There will be a before and after “Kiss the Sky” for Hendrix fans and for those who will discover it. Each box, thanks to the archival work of Dupont, is a mine of cultural and political history of America in the 1950s and 1960s. Each box is a small drawn treasure, so evident that Mezzo attaches extreme care to it and opens to the imagination by the power of its black and white mastered with an unsurpassable art. Two comic book perfectionists for one electric guitar genius. A masterpiece.
It’s been eight years since “Love in Vain”, which chronicled the shattered life of Robert Johnson and a piece of blues history in the racist American South. Why did you choose to take an interest in Jimi Hendrix now?
JMD With Mezzo, our idea was to rediscover the same alchemy by plunging ourselves back into another life story, still at the heart of the popular music of downgraded Americans, hence the choice of Jimi Hendrix, who is somewhat to rock what Robert Johnson was in the blues: a revolutionary musician, coupled with a fascinating character with a tragic destiny. With, in addition, a real filiation between the two men, since, before becoming a prince of psychedelia, Hendrix was first an accomplished bluesman. Moreover, certain acrobatics that are often attributed to him, such as playing with his teeth or with the guitar behind his back, are tricks invented long before him by blues musicians!
Mezzo For authors, Hendrix is a pearl. In his case, reality surpasses fiction. At first, you might think he has zero chance of getting out of it, but he has within him an extraordinary strength, an incredible determination that will enable him to overcome all the trials and handicaps to be recognized, respected and even beyond since, half a century after his death, his music is still alive and his aura still intact.
How would you describe the chemistry between you?
JMD I believe that, beyond our common passion for music and musicians, it is based on a shared desire to tell realistic stories, mixed with social chronicles, but also strongly tinged with fantasy and fantasy. What could be defined as magical realism…
Does that mean that, in your biopics, you intend to leave a part to the imagination?
Mezzo Not in the sense that it would be a question of romanticizing the facts, but rather of drawing from the character and his career singular elements which allow us, without betraying reality, to give the story and the images a dreamlike, even fantastic dimension. .
JMD Imagination also plays its part in how to inject drama into the facts to make the story come alive and create empathy for the character in the reader. And, with Hendrix, there is matter: with his miserable and traumatic childhood, he should have lived a miserable existence, even descended into delinquency or madness, but, instead, he remains upright thanks to his guitar. , with which he will build himself up to become a rock star. A dazzling but also ephemeral success, since it will then be broken by the system, but that is another story, which will be told in volume II of “Kiss the Sky”.
HIS IMAGINATION WAS NOURISHED ON SCIENCE-FICTION COMICS AND STORIES TOLD BY HIS GRANDMOTHER OF CHEROKEE ANCESTRY. JEAN-MICHEL DUPONT
Mezzo What is also interesting about him is the paradox of a shy and introverted man in real life who transforms when he is on stage into an almost supernatural character, both sexual and spiritual. He compared his concerts to electric masses which brought him into another dimension, another space, the sky, the planet Mars from which he thought he was coming, like a meteor stranded on Earth.
JMD He had an imagination nourished by the assiduous reading of science fiction comics, but also by the stories told to him by his paternal grandmother of Cherokee descent. The Cherokees saw themselves as people from heaven, and this belief inevitably influenced them, as did the shamanic culture of the Native Americans. So much so that he himself, during his childhood, saw himself more as a Native American than as an African-American.
Mezzo In fact, he invented his own spirituality, an exterior and interior cosmogony which made him travel constantly between heaven and earth. This is the meaning of the title of our book, “Kiss the Sky”, inspired by the lyrics of his song “Purple Haze”.
At the same time, “Kiss the Sky” is also a realistic chronicle of mid-20th-century America.e century…
JMD An America obviously very racist, but without any common measure with the segregationist Mississippi of Robert Johnson. Hendrix is not a southerner, he comes from Seattle, in the northwest of the United States, a very cosmopolitan city, with many Japanese, Chinese and Filipino immigrants, as well as a large Jewish community from ‘Eastern Europe. In the schools where he went, blacks, whites and Asians rubbed shoulders without problem and mixed flirtations between students were even possible. This probably explains his very late awareness of racism, when he became a professional musician in the South and played in the famous Chitlin’Circuit (network of performance halls in the eastern, southern and upper regions midwest of the United States – Editor’s note), these concert tours designed for a black audience banned from performance halls reserved for whites.
The drawing must be able to make the viewer hear, feel and vibrate, avoiding the trap of over-expressiveness. Mezzo
Was Hendrix hard to draw?
Mezzo Yes, his physique is a bit of a puzzle for a realistic cartoonist because he changes a lot depending on the angle and the lighting! And its range of expressions is very wide. One of the great challenges was also to express through drawing his fusional relationship with his guitar, to show this character fundamentally linked to his instrument, who lives, thinks and breathes only through him to the point of becoming a kind of electric man or guitar-man. The drawing must be able to make the viewer hear, feel and vibrate, avoiding the trap of over-expressiveness.
Today, how to define the art of Jimi Hendrix?
JMD He forever transformed the approach to the electric guitar. Not only in his phrasing and technique, but also in his willingness to use his instrument to produce sounds of all kinds, beyond simple musical notes. The most striking example being his famous interpretation of the American anthem at the Woodstock festival.
Mezzo Yes, sounds that go through his head and that he reproduces ever louder, as if to fill the whole space. His guitar is a person from whom he tears cries. She is another member of her body, which would be amputated without her, a sort of loudspeaker of her belly. She is the heroine.