Montreal

Quebec cartoonist traces the life of Leonard Cohen in black and white

The graphic novel, Leonard Cohen: On A Wire, is set to be released in French and English in 2021.

The graphic novel, Leonard Cohen: On A Wire, is set to be released in French and English in 2021

Quebec cartoonist Philippe Girard's graphic novel based on the life of Leonard Cohen is set to be released in 2021. (Drawn & Quarterly)

Shortly after Leonard Cohen died in Nov. 2016, Quebec cartoonist Philippe Girard had an idea.

Girard, a Quebec City native who has published more than a dozen graphic novels and comic books, felt that there was a great story to be told about the life of one of the province's most beloved artists, but he figured someone else would beat him to the punch, and maybe even do a better job, so he held off. 

"But I couldn't stop thinking about it and I wanted to draw Montreal. Then I heard a Leonard Cohen song on the radio and I said to myself that I had to stop circling around the idea," Girard told Radio-Canada.

In fact, no such graphic novel based on Cohen's life appeared, and so Girard dove in, beginning to work on what would become Leonard Cohen: On A Wire.

The book is set to be released in French in March 2021 by Belgian publisher Casterman. The English version will be available through Montreal publisher Drawn & Quarterly in Nov. 2021.

Girard said he wanted the project to be an ode not just to Cohen, but to Montreal and the artists it helps shape.

The book's cover shows Cohen walking through the Golden Square Mile, carrying a guitar case and puffing on a cigarette.

"He's coming back from a concert. He's passing by Ben's Deli — an important restaurant for Montreal and for Leonard Cohen. On his guitar, there are pictograms which serve as winks to themes in the book," said Girard.

"It's Leonard Cohen at the end of his work day, probably at night, heading home like any other working Montrealer, not in a limousine or a helicopter, but on foot, walking the streets of his city."

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Girard said he envisions this as the first instalment in what may be a series, featuring biographical anecdotes from different periods in Cohen's life.

The book opens with Cohen in Los Angeles on the last night of his life, reflecting on his accomplishments and adventures.

A fan of Cohen's work, Girard said he'd listened to the 1992 album The Future "at least 1,000 times."

Considering the breadth of Cohen's career, Girard had to be selective in the episodes he wanted to capture in the book.

Leonard Cohen: the phoenix

He explained that he began by drawing a Star of David and assigning each point as a decade in Cohen's life. 

"And for each decade I would choose a song, a woman and an item," said Girard.

He added that the moments he chose to include in the graphic novel tie into a central theme.

"Leonard Cohen is a man who has been declared dead at least 10 times in his life, but who rises from the ashes every time. He was extremely resilient and able to reinvent himself. So I decided to talk about Leonard Cohen: the phoenix, the one who always ends up bouncing back, even when he's down on his knees."


More information about Leonard Cohen: On A Wire here.

With files from Radio-Canada's Katerine Verebely

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