Blaze, the Masked Chicklet and a Dearest Enemy: Two Pieces by Unconventional Artist Claude Ponti
Travis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes has an annual feature on his blog called The Most Astonishingly Unconventional Books. I enjoy it very much, and it has, in turn, inspired me to create my own Unconventional Children’s Books list every December. “Unconventional” is such a good word for these books (so, full credit to Travis for coming up with it). They could be laden with more judgemental terms like “Weird” or “Odd”, but it’s nice to celebrate the fact that they aren’t afraid to go off the beaten path. Which brings us to Claude Ponti. It’s not so much that he goes off the path. One gets the impression that should he see such a path, he might drown it in chocolate syrup or set it on fire via lightning bugs.
Now I have seen Ponti’s latest book to come to America and it is, to put it plainly, a trip. Blaze and the Castle Cake for Bertha Daye does not adhere to any societal or cultural norms. It is, in fact, a heady title. That said, the baby chicks of this book may strike you as oddly familiar. Why? Perhaps you saw Ponti’s TOON Book from a couple years ago called Chick & Chickie. And as much as I enjoyed Blaze, I wasn’t sure how to highlight it. It defies description.
Enter Emma Raddatz with the solution. She wrote to me:
We’ve been translating a few short pieces that Ponti wrote for his French publisher, L’école des loisirs, years ago. They are brilliant short portraits – one an interview from the perspective of the maniacal Blaze himself, and the other an interview with Ponti’s greatest nemesis. Both expertly translated by Lara Vergnaud, they are hilarious and full of insights (now that I know Ponti was inspired by Hokusai, Bosch, and Fellini, I see his work with new light!). I also smile every time I read Blaze saying “Ponti was still a fragile novice so I let him think that he created me and the chicklets.”
Blaze, I should endeavor to explain, is the chicken featured in the aforementioned Blaze and the Castle Cake for Bertha Daye.
And so, without further ado, it is my extreme pleasure to present to you two short pieces by Ponti himself that perfectly exemplify what it means to commit to a bit. Behold and enjoy:
An Interview with Blaze, the Masked Chicklet
Contrary to what Claude Ponti says, neither he nor the book invented me. I, Blaze, the masked chicklet, was here before. When his studio was built, I was already there. I ran everything, chose everything, organized everything. He grumbled a little but in the end he basically agreed. When he needed a disruptive element for Adèle’s Album, I showed up with all the chicklets and I brought him the mask. And he got his disruptions, believe me. So much so that his book, our book, was an unprecedented success.
Ponti was still a fragile novice so I let him think that he created me and the chicklets. He doesn’t realize how much work it takes for us to appear in all his books. First off, living in his studio and on his bookshelf is quite the feat. He moves the furniture, he doesn’t put away his books, and he’s raising dustlets. His table is such a mess that you can’t even see it anymore, and don’t get me started on the cat that drinks from the jar for the watercolors, that sleeps on the armchair, that leaves fur everywhere, and that snores. Whereas the rest of us, us chicklets, are very clean and very tidy. In a word, we are meticulous hedonists. No one has a soap collection like ours, such a refined acquisition of the art of eating, or our innate credentials as architects/pastry chefs. We’re as patient as saints every time he makes his demands or stupid suggestions: for example, making us unclog a muddified bog or tame an ink stain running rampant. Plus, Ponti makes us out as babies in Tromboline and Foulbazar, when, if you look at the books carefully, we’re quite intelligent; we easily and elegantly extricate ourselves from difficult psychological situations. We find solutions to problems that even parents don’t see.
Ever since Blaze and the Castle Cake for Bertha Daye, he’s recognized our talents. Obviously, sales have something to do with it. But what’s driving sales? The magic of our narrative capacities and the power of our ability to evoke anything. Like gods, we can summon a Hokusai landscape, a world of pastry castles, a universe of chocolate. Like gods, we know how to laugh, especially at him, Claude Ponti. Because I, Blaze, the masked chicklet, am nobody! We had to wait for A Thousand Chicklet Secrets before our so-called creator noticed that whichever chicklet puts on the mask is the one who becomes Blaze.
Portrait of Claude Ponti by His Dearest Enemy
I can’t stand Claude Ponti. He’s ugly, his feet smell, so do his hands, his left nostril, and most of all, he stinks of pencil. Even if it is a mechanical pencil, that doesn’t block the smell, it’s more pretentious, is all. A guy who’s too good for a number two, you know the type. When people bring up his imagination, he acts all modest: “Oh no, I’m like everyone else, I swear, imagination is about cobbling things together, everyone has one and it’s like riding a bike, you never forget.” Normally the thing you never forget is who you stole your quotes from, and that bit about cobbling together, he stole that too. What does he cobble anyways? Other people’s work is what. Claude Ponti is the son of a photocopier and a dictionary-encyclopedia open to the arts and culture section. Prévert, Monteverdi, Queneau, Blind Willie Johnson, Kafka, Méliès, Gesualdo, Fred, Keaton, Big Bill Broonzy, Dürer, Chaplin, Little Nemo, Sviatoslav Richter, Bosch, Philip K. Dick, Hergé, Hulul, Charles Ives, Germaine Richier, Rembrandt, Ghérasim Luca, Hokusai, Fellini, Tardi, Camille Claudel, Breughel, Patinir, A Thousand and One Nights, Louise Labé, Marcel Aymé, Antonin Artaud, Sadegh, Freud, Nasreddin Hodja, Marie Louise Von Franz, Hedayat, Albert Ayler, F’murr, Clovis Trouille, Mafalda, Gustave Doré, Jung, Pierre Dac, Panchatantra, Germaine Tillion, Francis Blanche, Satie, Alfred Jarry, Goya, Clifford Simack, Vermeer, Robert Crumb, Ligeti, Jacques Callot, Doctor Festus, Roland Topor, Maldoror, Cyrano de Bergerac, Kathleen Ferrier, Giacometti, Maria Callas, Coltrane, Woody Allen, Franz Rimbaud, Arthur Schubert, Hester Wikipiedmont, Illa Stopphere, B. Coz, Thalistius Neverends…. He steals from everything and everyone. Worse than Walt himself. It’s easy enough to make references, allusions, HOMMAGE! Also known as (and forever known as): a lack of ideas, cheating, and theft. I call ‘em like I see ‘em.
Signed Claude Ponte’s dearest enemy
Special thanks to Emma Raddatz and the folks at Elsewhere Editions for this injection of wackiness on display today.
Filed under: Guest Posts
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
SLJ Blog Network