Before I start this review, a word of warning. Valium’s work is not for the faint of heart. It can be shocking and go against your core values. Especially if you are a religious person. His albums contain a lot of violence, porn and about everything that anybody has ever been disturbed by. If Walt Disney had a polar opposite, Valium would be a strong contender. This article was first published in french on my Facebook page.
So if you are still fine with all that, read on for my first impressions of this new book!
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It gives me a lot of joy to hold in my hands this new album. I first learned about Valium around 1998, while I was studying graphic design. I had a blast around those years, discovering what it could mean to be a comic book artist. There was this great store called Fichtre! and the owner, Yves, was the gracious host of a bunch of small press book launches. I didn’t miss a single one for a couple of years. This is where I discovered Valium. There was this giant book, impossible to ignore, right in my face. It was called “Primitive crétin”. I bought it without blinking.

 Henriette Valium?

Valium in all it’s glory

For those of you who don’t know of him, he’s considered by many has one of the pillards of Montréal’s underground art scene. For more than 30 years, he’s been producing incredible work. Comics of course, but painting, collages, sculpture, and ambient music.

Let me give you my appreciation of his body of work. Some people will look at Valium and dismiss it without having a second look. Many get vertigo just by looking at his pages. He clearly shakes us up in our comfort zone. He shares with us a sort of overdose of urban life. His vision of the complexity of our world and of the ambiant corruption that it contains. He shows us until which point the human condition can be pitiful. His way of doing things make him most likely of the biggest iconoclast that I know of. I feel like he gets pleasure out of bringing down institutions from their pedestal. His art culminates into a visual orgasm where all are equal and ridiculous.

The book

Simply superb. The printer did a great job. It’s quite a treat to see his work at this level of quality. All pages are bleed and most are illuminated in a fashion befitting a middle ages monk. Most of the illuminations are a mix of religious mosaics. All done by hand. If he ever does a gallery show, it’s quite a sight to see the original pages. The amount of time he spends on a page is borderline obscene. One drawback of the perfect bind is that some details is hidden in between the pages since you can’t open the book completely. Not sure what could’ve been done about that.

Comparaison between Primitive crétin, Valium ab bédex compilato and The Palace of Champions
The large format silk-screen books he used to print had a certain charm but a lot of details were lost. But you can find them all reproduced in a large high quality anthology book published by l’Association. I heartily recommend it. I saw a copy at Librairie Z, last time I was there.

The stories

Like most of his books it’s an uneven mix of many story types. The first, called « Lâcher de chiens » happens in Montréal’s alleys. Valium (the character) is attacked by two unwatched dogs. The police intervenes and things go wild. A classic Valium tale where a seemingly mondain event goes into a psychotic frenzy.
« Quebec is a schizophrenic » is inspired by tarot and medieval illuminations. Truly superb work. Not really a story, more like a series of illustrations.

Valium with one of his fans

« If you dig a hole in a forest and, later, an animal fall down in it and die, will it be your fault? » Is pretty funny and talks about his experience with his fans that want to be like him.

Jean-Guy (sous l’évier) et Valium
I think that my favorite story was Jean-Guy’s tale. One day a guy decides to go live under his kitchen sink. Jean-Guy came from a family living under a viaduct. Valium befriends him but one day, Jean-Guy disappears, oh no!

Interesting diseases
In « There’s better than lying: restrain the truth » you will find 3 hyper-detailed spreads. One with his famous Lekron et Iceberg caracters, another about invented diseases (a theme he seems to fancy) and another with a snake and latter gameboard.
Considering the amount of details he puts into one page. A new Valium book is an event to cherish. So I urge you to indulge and check it out.
This concludes my quick overview of this beautiful book and I hope I interested you in learning more. You can learn more about him on his website : henriettevalium.com
It’s also possible to meat him in person in cons. Notably at Expozine. Go say hello!
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Book in this article:

  • Conundrum Press; 64 pages; English; 0,6 x 22,9 x 35,6 cm
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