The Hunting Party (comics)

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For other uses, see Hunting party.
Partie de chasse
The Hunting Party
Cover of the French edition
Date 1983
Publisher Dargaud/Les Humanoïdes Associés
Creative team
Writers Pierre Christin
Artists Enki Bilal
Colourists Enki Bilal
Original publication
Published in Pilote magazine
Issues
  1. M89–#M95
Date(s) of publication
1981
Language French
ISBN 2-205-02424-8
Translation
Publisher HM Communications
Date 1984–1985

The Hunting Party (French: Partie de chasse) is a political thriller graphic novel from 1983 written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Enki Bilal. It is centered around a group of old, mostly retired or disgraced Communist bloc political leaders who meet in Poland for a bear-hunting party under the guide of Soviet Presidium leader Vasili Aleksandrovič Čevčenko, an aging revolutionary leader who, while retired from official duties, still retains much of his power and political influence. The year in which the story takes place is not specified, but it appears to be set in 1983, per Sergej Šavanidze's fictional biography on page 1, which states that "... at 44 (Šavanidze was born in 1939), he is the youngest member of the Politburo".

The characters, while reminiscing about their individual role in the gradual building of the Communist empire from the Revolution onwards, and the tragedies they had to endure along with growing disillusionment with the Socialist dream, plot to kill the new up-and-coming personality in the Politburo and thus stop his Stalinist political vision meant to ensure social immobilism for all the Eastern bloc.

Publication history[edit]

Original publications in French[edit]

As in the case of many other famous French graphic novels, The Hunting Party was first published sequentially. Pilote magazine issued the story in two parts in 1981[1] and 1982[2] (#M89, M99). Later the story was published as an individual album in May, 1983 by Dargaud. In 1990 the authors included an Epitaph (1990) chapter, which reflects to the comics' events in retrospect (n.b. in 1989 the Eastern Bloc finally collapsed, urging the creators to revisit their comic created in the early Eighties). These post 1990 editions also contain fictional biographies of the characters and some other "extra" features.

English translations[edit]

Similarly to the French original, the first English translation had also been published in sequences. Heavy Metal magazine divided the story into ten parts in 1984–1985 (June 1984/Vol. 8 No. 3–March 1985/Vol. 8 No. 12).[3] The first individual album format English version of the graphic novel was published by Catalan Communications in March, 1990 (ISBN 0874160537). In 2002 Humanoids Publishing presented the hardcover version, the first with the epilogue (ISBN 0-9672401-7-4).

Non-English translations[edit]

  • Danish: Jagten ("The Hunt"), 1983.
  • German: Treibjagd ("Hunting Party"), 1993, Carlsen Verlag, with an epilogue.
  • Spanish: Partida de Caza ("Hunting Party").
  • Norwegian: Jakten, 1985, SEMIC/nordisk forlag.
  • Finnish: Metsästysretki,- 1989, Tammi
  • Portuguese: A Caçada,- 1987, Meribérica/Liber Editores
  • Dutch: De Jacht, 1983, Dargaud Benelux

Plot[edit]

The book begins with an epigraph from György Konrád:

You have become accustomed to power
as to bleeding flesh.

This is followed by fictional biographies of the Dramatis Personae, who are all prominent political ex-leaders of Eastern European Iron Curtain countries: the Soviet Union, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Poland. The only Western character in the novel is a young, unnamed French Communist student of Slavic languages who participates as an interpreter. Another French character appears later, but he is an ordinary tourist who is detained by police at the border of Poland and later expelled without understanding the reason for his detainment nor the authorities understanding what he is saying. His role in the novel is thus insignificant, except possibly as a metaphor of the unfathomable distance between Western and Eastern Europe. (This character appeared as a nameless revolutionary with extraordinary powers in Christin and Bilal's La Ville qui n'existait pas and as a silent character in Les Phalanges de l'Ordre Noir.)

As the book begins, a Soviet Railway train passes through the station of Czaszyn, Poland, at night. The first characters of the novel are introduced: a young, unnamed French student, and Evgeni Golozov, an Ukrainian polyglot born in 1918 who is a member of the Central Committee and the de facto personal secretary to Vasili Aleksandrovič Čevčenko. Čevčenko, an old paralyzed man who lies in bed in the next car reading the Pravda, is the Éminence Grise behind the whole novel: born in 1895, he has fought in the Revolution of 1917, has met Lenin and Stalin and has been an executive of the Cheka and the GPU. A decorated General during the Second World War, he has later become a high-ranking official of the Politburo. Čevčenko's long and eventful life, recreated in the conversation between Golozov and the French student, summarizes both the utopian, exhilarating aspects of the Communist Revolution and its darkest, most violent abuses.

We also learn about Čevčenko's only love interest, Vera Nikolaevna Tretjakova (1895–1937), a blonde, strikingly beautiful Bolshevik leader and intellectual who, coincidentally, is the only female character in the story, and only present as a ghost of the past.[4] After having played an important role in the October Revolution, during which she had an affair with Čevčenko, Tretjakova was a victim of the 1937 Čistka and arrested under charges of Trockij-Zinovievism, then disappeared, probably eliminated by the NKVD. She was arrested by the very agency Čevčenko was an executive of. Tretjakova's memory has since haunted Čevčenko constantly, with the implication that since her death, as a high State official, Čevčenko has always been torn between personal feelings and Raison d'État.

The train finally reaches its destination in Królówka, Poland. The Soviet dignitaries and the French student are welcomed by Tadeusz Boczek (born in Wilno, 1914),[5] on whose country property the hunting party will be held. While they debark on the platform, the French student/interpreter learns that his and Golozov's duties are largely ornamental, since all guests at the hunting party speak fluent French, which is their lingua franca, unless an argument ensues, in which case the guests pretend in spite not to understand each other and call for interpreters.

Shortly, other hunting party guests arrive at the platform: Ion Nicolescu (born on the Danube Delta, Romania, in 1918, an executive of the Securitate and member of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party; and Janos Molnar, vice-Interior Minister at Budapest. Nicolescu was a follower of Gheorghiu-Dej in 1948 and in charge of the purges, but fell in political disgrace in 1952, until new purges favoured his return to power in the Securitate in 1957, after which he has been steadily climbing the ranks of the Central Committee.

The guests board a motorcade and depart towards Strzyżów, to Tadeusz Boczek's country estate, a large mansion evidently expropriated from wealthy landowners during the Communist takeover of Poland. There is a hint that Boczek was only granted such a property as honorable exile after political disgrace. The French student expresses admiration for the rich decor and works of art displayed throughout the mansion, to which Golozov quips: "Yes, the decadent exploiting aristocracy of this country did have good taste." The vast mansion also features an American Bar Room, where the next character is found having a drink: Vasil Strojanov, born in 1920 or 1921 in Bulgaria to peasant parents. Strojanov was a valiant partisan during World War II on the Rodopi mountains, and took part in the first Dimitrov cabinet in 1946. He is introduced as a big, hard-drinking loudmouth. Boczek accompanies his guests in a tour of the estate and serves a "frugal, but hearty" lunch in the gazebo in the snow-covered garden.

Another guest arrives: it is Pavel Havelka, born in the suburbs of Prague in 1915. Havelka was a Czech Social Democrat who sided with the 1948 Communist coup, then was arrested in 1951 in the wake of the Slánský trial as a "nationalist-bourgeois imperialist", then was rehabilitated in 1963. Havelka is the only one to arrive by car, driving a Tatra that has special significance for him and Čevčenko, being the very same car in which he and Čevčenko discussed the possibility of a Russian intervention in Czechoslovakia on August 15, 1968, after the Dubček reform. A flashback of Russian troops in Prague on August 21 follows, with people screaming: "Эх, Иван! Вернись домой!" and "Hoj Kamarade! Koho jste vy přišli zabit? Svobodu?". The guests briefly discuss the Prague Spring, Molnar and Nicolescu cynically dismissing the whole concept of Socialism with a human face as an "enormous tactical blunder". Havelka hints that while they may be right, the Russian élite, and especially Čevčenko, actually favoured the departure to the West of disgraced comrades on the very same Tatra that he arrived on. Embarrassment follows.

The party then marches on to the first hunt for small fowl in the snow-covered country, a warm-up exercise only intended to secure appetizers for dinner. Strojanov displays his love of whisky, and he is warned: "Vasil, you had better beware of the influence of capitalist alcohol on your tongue". At this moment, the whirring of an helicopter is heard. Boczek explains more guests are arriving from Akademgorodok, where they have been attending a summit conference on industrial exchange between Warsaw Pact countries. The helicopter lands and two men debark: Günther Schütz and Sergej Šavanidze. Schütz, born in Leipzig in 1930, a brilliant East German philosopher-economist, is, as Boczek explains it, "one of the great minds of the Comecon. Before him, no one knew why our commonwealth worked badly. Now we know". Molnar asks: "So now it works better?" Boczek answers: "No, but knowledge is priceless for scientific régimes such as ours." Sergej Šavanidze, born in Georgia in 1939, a mechanical engineer, is the Party's young lion, destined to replace Čevčenko in the Politburo. Golozov warns the French student he is going to have to work, since Šavanidze does not speak any language except Russian, plus he does not like Golozov at all. The French student translates small talk between Šavanidze, Molnar and Havelka, and the guests adjourn to the winter garden for drinks.

Boczek then suggests a dip in the brand new heated pool in the basement of his mansion. All the guests change into bathing suits. Boczek tells Schütz the whole apparatus is imported from the United States, and Schütz says stiffly he has never approved of "luxury goods", especially in view of Poland Boczek's country's foreign debt. Strojanov tells him sarcastically: "I thought privileged Party executives like you had everything to gain from 'luxury goods'." Vasili Aleksandrovič Čevčenko watches silently from his wheelchair while the guests dive in the pool, and Janos Molnar approaches him to tell him the pool should remind him of the July 1956 Hungarian Revolution, when Čevčenko had come to Hungary and talked to Tibor Illyes, the old Stalinist Party leader, in a thermal pool, to remove him from his seat. Illyes was found dead soon after, officially a "suicide", and Molnar was the first to bring the news to Čevčenko, therefore winning his favour. But maybe Čevčenko had already set his sights on Molnar, then a young reporter from Szabad Nép, and chosen him for his ally. We learn that Čevčenko has always shown remarkable talent for singling out the young and promising cadres in times of trouble, so that the Communist empire could move forward no matter the individual casualties.

The discussion and arguments between Molnar, Havelka and Nicolescu concerning Hungary and Czechoslovakia reach a high at dinner, where caviar and other delicacies are served. While Strojanov belches contentedly, Šavanidze challenges Čevčenko to a chess match ("Не хотцте аи вы играть шашки, Василий Александрович?"). Čevčenko is a master player. Havelka whispers to the French student: "As usual, Sergej challenges Vasili Aleksandrovič. And as usual, Sergej will lose. And he is a very bad loser". Šavanidze, beaten and humiliated, retreats angrily to his room. Boczek suggests everybody goes to bed, because "tomorrow will be a hard day". Golozov and the French student watch Čevčenko's bedroom, where he is haunted by his personal ghosts and nightmares: a soaring falcon, possibly a metaphor of the October Revolution, and the same falcon with its eyes ripped out and its beak dripping blood; Vera Nikolaevna Tretjakova being escorted away by two NKVD agents; a bear in a snowy landscape in a pool of blood, like a vision of the future hunting party; and Čevčenko himself with Tretjakova, both naked and embracing while immersed thigh-high in blood, with the (incomplete) word "ЛЮБОВ" (Love) painted in white on a wall behind them.

The next morning, the guests move out on a new hunt: boar first, then deer. Tadeusz Boczek and the French student exchange political zingers, where the impression is that the French student is enthusiastic and extremely naive in his unrequited love of Communism, while Boczek is a seasoned veteran who has seen the dark side and lived to tell the tale. Wild boar prowl the countryside, huge and dangerous creatures. The hunting party scatters, each looking for prey on his own, but before long someone is heard crying for help. Pavel Havelka says: "It sounded like Tadeusz's voice". Molnar says: "I do not understand. Nothing was supposed to happen today". The party finds Boczek wounded and lying in the snow in front of an enraged boar ready to kill. While everybody is gripped by fright and discusses what to do, a single master rifle shot from somewhere in the forest strikes the boar dead when it is just inches away from Boczek. Everybody knows it was Čevčenko who saved Boczek's life. While he is brought back to safety, Boczek says Čevčenko has given him three lives and three deaths. Boczek, as a Polish Communist Jew, was saved in 1938 from internal Comintern purges; was a witness to Nazi atrocities and participated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and Čevčenko organized his escape in order to rebuild a national Communist party; and today Čevčenko has chosen to save him from a more mundane, but no less deadly threat. But Boczek has also died three times because of Čevčenko: once in the same year 1938 when he was saved, when he first realized Russia was bent on destroying its most faithful foreign militants; later, after World War II, when he witnessed the torturing of dissidents inside the Palace of Culture and Science; and lastly in 1967, when the Soviet régime was in dire need of external enemies to pin its shortcomings on and decided the last Jews left after the Shoah were responsible. Boczek was excommunicated and vilified, and exiled to the comfortable but isolated estate in Strzyżów.

The hunt goes on in the afternoon for deer, sans Boczek who stays home recovering. Later, the guests meet at the Observatory dome to watch the night sky, which prompts Nicolescu to reminisce about his youth, when he gazed at the sky between 1952 and 1957 while in disgrace from the Party along with Ana Pauker, and still earlier with his mother as a child and in 1945, when he returned to Romania with Čevčenko to take his role as one of the new rulers of the country after Yalta. He goes on to describe his memories of storks nesting on the multicoloured chimneys of his childhood village and pelicans going after fish in the Danube Delta. Vasil Strojanov, in his cynical and drunken way, is moved enough to recount his own experience as a partisan and member of the Dimitrov cabinet. Strojanov was the only one to escape hanging under charges of Titoism. Since then, Strojanov has had a recurring nightmare: a hideous monster-beast with sharp teeth, gray, stonelike skin and breasts similar to a female animal's mammaries, rising over a snow-covered landscape along with a red star. In the dream, the beast is Strojanov himself, or maybe "The Party itself, of which I am but a swearing mouth, a bloodthirsty claw". The conversation is interrupted by Schütz, who coolly disapproves of his comrades' "puerile idealism" and proudly reminds them he voted against Kafka's rehabilitation from charges of "bourgeois pessimism". Boczek saves everyone from further embarrassment by calling them to dinner. However, Nicolescu, Strojanov and Boczek share a few words that let us know Schütz is increasingly becoming a puppet of Šavanidze, which is harmful to their "business". Dinner ends with a collective toast: "На здоровье!", after which Šavanidze challenges yet again Čevčenko to a chess match, and yet again loses.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Pilote année 1981". 
  2. ^ "Pilote année 1982". 
  3. ^ Heavy Metal Magazine Fan Page - 1984 list, Heavy Metal Magazine Fan Page - 1985 list
  4. ^ Accordingly, Tretjakova's fictional biography is placed on its own at the end of the book, unlike all the other characters', who are placed together at the beginning. She is the author of the (fictional) essay Psychoanalyse und Dialektischer Materialismus ("Psychoanalysis and Dialectical Materialism"), published in German and Russian in 1926 and banned from all Soviet libraries after her elimination.
  5. ^ Vilnius, capital of Lithuania.

References[edit]

External links[edit]