Friday, 28 January 2011

Monsieur 100 têtes - MeMo

Monsieur 100 Têtes by Ghislaine Herbéra, Editions MeMo, 2010

I already partly told you about this book here, it's the winner of the Prix Premier Album  obtained during the last Salon de Montreuil, debut book of the skillful Ghislaine Herbéra.

The making of this book, which is only apparently simple, unchains through the representation of Monsieur’s (the main character) moods. The narrative pretext, from which the psychological and cultural contents of the book derive, are built on the telling of an important day : Monsieur has a romantic encounter and he doesn't know which head to wear to cause sensation with his lady.

From that sort of magic cavern where he keeps his countless heads, Monsieur draws one head after the other, desperately looking for the perfect one. In a windmill of faces, we live all the different typical moods when the heart is in turmoil : shyness, frustration, anxiety, fear, joy, cheerfulness up to the happy ending.

Inuit Masks, Alaska

The text helps us understanding how easy it may be to pass from one mood to another: of how shyness can make us feel foolish and of how, when we feel foolish, we get hurt and anger grown uncontrolled and, when anger grows and we are able to do no matter what. After all, it's known, feelings master us despite our will.

The real brilliance and originality of this book, resides in the manner the author chose to represent those moods: in fact, the heads are masks coming from the whole world. (I do suspect that the masks might as well have been the starting point of the story but, for the moment, I have no evidence to demonstrate this). Amid others, there are masks pertaining to the theatrical and iconological inheritance of some countries: there's the Italian Comedy of Art, as well as the Kyōgen Theatre or the Nō Theatre (see cover image) from Japan, Ihamo Theatre from Tibet or the traditional mask used for the Dance of the Dead, during the Día de Muertos, in Mexico.

The book therefore becomes a cultural pretext, a tool through which we can discover the more secluded sides of the countries represented, gaining substance and evidence in their masks : ancestral expression – passing from idols to carnival masks, from popular tradition to the more cultivated one of theatres – masks have always been a sort of mean for telling of aspects forbidden by prevailing cultures as well as emblem of fears and sacred, passage from human to sacred, object of rituals and representations. From more clearly tribal allegories to the more refined ones, the reader is allowed travel through the book and to appropriate a precious heritage of information.

Bwa, Burkina Faso                  -                  Bengale, India

Going back to the illustrations, what immediately struck me of this book was the intentional cleanness of the images : the only colours evidenced are those of the masks and, at times, of the boxes where they are contained according to representative needs. Every object  contained in the illustrations has a precise aim, for instance : if, by looking at the first table, you assume that the object placed above the door in Monsieur's room is a simple showy decoration, then you will be soundly disavowed because, that one as well, is a mask. Just like the one on the very last table (I'm not telling more for obvious reasons !).

The scene looks bare, the double page is structured on the alternation of foregrounds aimed to highlight the expressions of the represented faces, in a flow with no apparent interruption. Monsieur, captured in the act of trying on the « head » of the moment,  is the thread that contributes to a narrative unicum flowing in the opposition, or consecution, of his various poses. The text, where present, is reduced to the essential. It's a simple skilfully played text, never banal, all played around increasing expectation and desire to discover what follows, that gives us the necessary information to make us feel in want for the next page.

Maltugi, Corea                   -                   Dance of the Dead, Mexico

A well structured picture book, sober, amusing, easy to read that I would suggest also to younger kids.

Copyright© images, Éditions MeMo 2010. Images have been reproduced with the permission of the Publisher, all reproduction being strictly forbidden.


  1. Wow! I love the sound of this one - and it opens up so many fun possibilities for follow up activities with the kids. Do you know if the foreign language rights have been sold anywhere?

  2. Hi! Yes, it can be a very nice source for activities, I completely agree!! I have no idea about eventual rights... but I can get information. I shall let you know.

  3. Hi again! I got information from the publisher, apparently they will be selling rights for other countries in Bologna, at the book fair next March 28th on. I really hope they will publish it in English and Italian as well! :-)

  4. Hi Liv! I agree with you, the idea is just smart and well developed. The artwork very interesting. Thank you for visiting!