Friday, April 30, 2010

Paris Under Water

OK, maybe this falls under the heading of shameless promotion, but here goes anyway.

Details for some of the background for the current storyline in my online comic strip, Slipped, came from two books — a little from Andrew Hussey’s highly entertaining 2006 book, Paris: A Secret History (Bloomsbury USA), which I’ve been reading on and off since it came out, but even more from Jeffrey H. Jackson’s new book, Paris Under Water: How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910 (Palgrave Macmillan 2010).

Jackson’s book includes almost a score of entrancing photos taken during the flood, as well as a timeline that stretches from the “higher than usual” rainfall noted in the summer of 1909; through the explosion of a vinegar factory in the Ivry suburb on Jan. 25, 1910, after invading water sloshed together volatile chemicals; to the Seine’s receding to normal levels by March.

The author also provides insight into Prefect of Police Louis Lépine — the hero of the hour.

But here comes my confession: I introduced the character of Lépine in Slipped before I was able to get my hands on a copy of Paris Under Water. I’d read a bit about him in a New York Times review of the book, enough to admire Lépine’s efforts to save his city — and about his ever-present bowler.

What I didn’t learn until I started to read the actual book this week was how: a.) I got his personality pretty dead-on — a successful leader in such a crisis almost certainly would have to be unyielding, fierce (Jackson’s words) and tough; and b.) I got his looks exactly wrong (except for the hat, of course).

“Lépine was a small, wiry man, with a large forehead, steely eyes and stern gaze. A thick mustache and goatee framed his pursed lips,” Jackson writes. My Lépine is tall, possesses not much of a forehead to speak of and wears a bristled mustache, a la Mutt and Jeff. Maybe I’ll have him grow a beard as the story develops.

Now, my excuse for not waiting for more details concerning Monsieur Lépine is this. My characters hijacked control of the Slipped storyline about two months after I started the comic strip in 2008, and when we got to the Paris flood a few weeks ago, they were in a hurry.

As the Scarlet Sparrow and her traveling companions arrive in 1910 — actually their out-of-control giant spider-like tank drops them into the Seine — in Chapter 97, panel 4, a small boat can be seen on the horizon. As it paddles closer in succeeding panels and chapters, and unbeknownst to me, it’s revealed that boat carries Lépine and his (fictitious) assistant, Inspector Pomme de Terre.

And, by golly, that is what this Lépine looks like — a bowler, yes, but no goatee.

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