On Thursday evening July 11, 2013, Cultural Counselor Antonin Baudry bestowed the insignia of the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres on American comic book writer and artist Matt Madden, in a ceremony held at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York.
Dear Matt Madden,
This is a historic moment. You are one of the few American cartoonists to be made a knight in the Order of Arts and Letters.
Tonight we honor someone of the greatest character.
An American who is with us for a short while, as he lives in Angoulême.
A Brooklyn based cartoonist whose primary source of inspiration comes from the French literary circle OuLiPo. This is not casual.
A genius of the comic world who grew up, only reading French translations of the Marvel superhero comics Daredevil and Dr. Strange. He dived into them in France, but was less interested in the US.
All these twists and turns…“Who the hell is Matt Madden?”
Matt, I am a huge fan of your work especially of your incredible book, 99 Ways to Tell a Story, each of these 99 shorts ending with “What the hell was I looking for, anyway?” It sounds like an existentialist poem. I love it. When thinking about this ceremony and how we might honor you, I thought: 99 ways to tell the story: Who the hell is Matt Madden? Each vignette takes 5 minutes. I’ve done the math and I’ve calculated 8 hours and 25 minutes. So folks, get comfortable, we are together for a while.
1) The Diplomatic and Formal Way
Welcome, dear guests.
This evening, en tant que Conseiller culturel de l’Ambassade de France aux Etats Unis et Représentant Permanent des Universités françaises aux Etats-Unis, I cordially invite you to this reception whereby Monsieur le Maitre des Comic Books, sa Seigneurie Matt Madden will be presented with the insignia of Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Monsieur le Maître des Comic Books Matt Madden, you were born in 1968 in New York City and moved to Paris with your family from the age of three to eight. Formative years on the continent where you discovered a love for French culture, cheese and Smurf figurines. After receiving your degree from the University of Michigan in 1988, your career as a writer and artist launched and you have since become an international figure in independent cartooning and a professor at the School of Visual Arts. The arts and education, which you cherish dearly, are both at the core of France’s social contract. On behalf of the French government, je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur le Maître des comic books Matt Madden, mes sentiments les plus distingués ainsi que l’expression de ma plus haute considération.
Wait, something is wrong. I do not think that « Sa Seigneurie Matt Madden” is appropriate for Matt. Flowery language doesn’t really suit you. So, who the hell is Matt Madden?
Let’s try a friendlier way.
2) The Friendly Way
Hey dude. When I heard you would be in New York with your family, Jessica, Aldara and Jasper, I couldn’t miss this opportunity to give you a cool pin, only fit for a superhero like you. Your friends miss you this year, as you have moved to France to do a residency at La Maison des Auteurs, in Angoulême. I heard that another friend of yours, the comic Killoffer, teased you saying: “You’ve lived in all the greatest cities of the world…Mexico City, New York and now Angoulême.” Cool… I’m sure you are having a wonderful time enjoying la vie française but we’ll be happy to see you back in Brooklyn soon!
Something did strike me. You’re so comfortable in both the capital of the world and the capital of… Charentes, in the South West of France – Who the hell is Matt Madden?
3) The Intellectual Way
With so many faces, one can speculate that Matt Madden is an intellectual.
As Sartre said, “an intellectual is someone who gets involved in what does not concern him”. The intellectual is versatile and passionate. He translates Perec’s La Disparition without looking at the Gilbert Adair translation.
Matt, at the heart of your work is the link between legitimate and popular culture. You are so implicated in the academic world, and are brilliant, but also generous. You believe in the promotion of your peers and of the neuvième art, as shown by your notable translations of Baudouin, one of the greatest cartoonists alive.
So, you are a very distinguished intellectual… but I imagine you might prefer the “pows” “booms” and swwwifts” of your favorite comics rather than these professorial remarks.
An intellectual and a fan of super-heroes?
Who the hell is Matt Madden?
Maybe we will find his essence in his biggest admirers. Let’s try the “fan mail” way.
4) The Fan Mail Way
Dear Mr. Madden,
My name is Antonin, and I’m 38 years old. I live in New York City and I am a huge fan.
I have been a fan ever since your first book Black Candy was published in 1998. Your later book, 99 Ways to Tell a Story, is witty and refined. It makes me laugh and cry. I also love your haircut.
Since I’m a fan, I would love if you could autograph a copy of 99 Ways to Tell a Story. I would appreciate it more than words, although I’d understand if you don’t have time, since you must have a busy schedule.
Thank you for listening, and best of luck!
A star of comics books and a hairstyle model … That is strange. Who the Hell is Matt Madden?
5) The Colleague Way
Now as a colleague, though I’m a much less talented graphic novelist. In honoring you this evening, the French government recognizes the power and art of cartoons. I am simply delighted. For this art form allows people to express themselves in otherwise impossible ways. It has a playful, puzzling, challenging soul. My esteem and respect for your work is abundant. This admiration extends to your wife, Jessica, a wonderful person and fellow writer. You share a specific conception of art: I remember you once quoted Chuck Close, the American photographer, saying: ‘Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work’. You definitely do get to work, and brilliantly so. Your book together, Jessica and Matt, Mastering Comics, gives hope to all aspiring comic book writers…. and to me!
So… You are a modest genius. This is often an oxymoron. Who the Hell is Matt Madden?
Maybe the answer lies in the language of his spiritual country. Not sure if we’ll find it, as we can be pessimistic in France as you may know… Mais allons-y.
6) The French Way
Cher Matt Madden,
En ce temps de décadence et d’ennui généralisés, la grande littérature française n’est plus. Après le divin Racine, il faut donc plier le genou devant les âneries de la télé réalité… Voilà ce qu’annonce la crise actuelle pour le futur : la mort de la culture. Heureusement, vous êtes là, Matt Madden, vaillant chevalier se dressant contre les assauts abrutissants de la barbarie ambiante…. Don’t worry, this is a satire. We love comics and cartoons, we do believe in culture more than ever!
I have become so positive and optimistic that I feel American. So let’s try that way…it may lead to our Mystery Man…
7) The American Way
You’re awesome and your comics books rock! Thanks to you, America has found a hero and the future looks bright! You’ve grown from an independent writer to superstar status! You’re a model, dear Matt, for our children and show us that dreams can become true. Thank you, Matt!
Matt, at the end of the day, are you French or American? Who the hell is Matt Madden?
I know that you’re also a wonderful professor so let’s try the teacher way! Keep quiet. We’re almost done with ten percent.
8) The Teacher Way
Good afternoon class. Today, our lesson focuses on three literary landmarks in the twentieth century. Three moments that changed the course of history as we know it. Take notes as there will be a quiz at the end of the ceremony. As you know in France we give bad grades.
On November 14, 1913, Du côté de chez Swann, the first volume of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu was published in Paris, à compte d’auteur by Grasset.
In 1947, Raymond Queneau, one of the founders of the experimental literary movement OuLiPo, published his Exercices de Style, a game-changer for literature.
At the beginning of the 21st century, a mystery author published the most influential book – 99 ways to tell a story… And the objective of this class is to figure out who he is.
Of course the title is a tribute to Queneau’s mythic Exercices de style. Queneau and the mystery writer have a common vision of the arts believing that it is linked to everyday life and that substance is inseparable from style. On this subject, we return to Proust who states that: “Le style est une vision du monde”. Just as Proust thought beauty and intelligence could spring out from a superficial life, just as Queneau believed that art relies in mundane life, this mystery author shows that comics are not just about super-heroes fighting against evil but are relatable to everyone.
Who the hell is this mystery author?
So… Let’s try the easiest way for me… to be myself.
9) The “Be Myself” Way
Matt, I could continue on with my 99 ways to answer “Who the Hell is Matt Madden” but will stop at number 9 since I think I answer the question by following the “Be myself” way. I am a diplomat, a colleague, a fan but most importantly I am a friend. So who is Matt? Matt is someone dear to me… He’s a genius author, he’s an open minded traveler, he’s a bridge between France and America. And I am thrilled to have this opportunity to bestow upon someone so deserving, generous and brilliant, the insignia of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Matt, in a few seconds, you’ll be one of the very few American cartoonist knights EVER!
Dear Matt Madden, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.