Edgar Allan Poe & Pascal Somon: Le Portrait Ovale

The Oval Portrait is one of Edgar Allan Poe’s many short stories. In the most simple terms, it is about a man who reads about an artist who is so thoroughly obsessed with his work and the perfection of his paintings that he reaches a point where the life he aims to capture on the canvas snuffs out the life he aimed to capture on the canvas.

Le Portrait Ovale is Pascal Somon’s adaptation of Charles Baudelaire’s mid 19th century translation of Poe’s short story into a bande dessinée. Somon imaginatively fills in the blank of what happened prior to the beginning of the reader’s story and continues on, accompanying his illustrations with passages from Poe’s story in an abridged fashion.

The story itself has a more of an O’Henry type of irony rather than Poe’s usual, but still with Poe’s macabre twist. Somon’s illustrations, particularly the color palette, really suit the mood of the story, yet remains very much a French artistic vision with the setting and attitude expressed in the characters’ countenances.

I am by nature and by habit drawn to all things Poe, so I was quite happy to come across this. Since I’ve read the story before, it isn’t a question of whether I enjoyed it or not, but a question of whether or not Somon’s efforts added anything to it. And they did. Without much effort, they very easily showed how untethered the work is to any era. Anyone could have just as easily depicted a setting filled with bustles, parasols, dirt roads, declining chinoiserie, and headless portraits in sepia tones to express the time during which the story was originally published. However, Somon choose a retro-futuristic-1980s-the-future-is-now ambience in ghostly blues and browns. Even so, the story remains intact except that the featured portrait was not presented in an oval frame. And though that is the title of the story, this change had very little impact on its retelling.

To answer a question you might have, no, I am not fluent in French, but that’s never stopped me. I am, however, very familiar with the original story and my knowledge of Latin aids me, so I can manage.

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