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the Complete Review
the complete review - graphic novel


Letter to Survivors


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To purchase Letter to Survivors

Title: Letter to Survivors
Author: Gébé
Genre: Comics
Written: 1981 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 113 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Letter to Survivors - US
Letter to Survivors - UK
Letter to Survivors - Canada
Lettre aux survivants - Canada
Lettre aux survivants - France
  • French title: Lettre aux survivants
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Edward Gauvin

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appropriately disturbing post-nuclear-holocaust tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 4/3/2019 Rachel Cooke
Publishers Weekly . 17/12/2018 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "This is a book whose relative brevity and outward simplicity may, on a first reading, obscure its deep philosophical richness. It is, somehow, so incredibly French and all the better for it." - Rachel Cooke, The Guardian

  • "This introspective and sardonic book makes it painfully clear how far society has failed to come in the decades since its debut." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Letter to Survivors is a post-apocalyptic graphic novel. The first frame -- also used as the cover image -- fairly clearly sets the what's-left-of-the-world stage, a man in a protective hazmat suit bicycling across a flattened landscape of ruin. The man turns out to be a mailman, still doing his rounds. He reaches an air vent poking out of the ground, connected to a bomb shelter deep below, where a family of four is holed up. Actual mail delivery is impossible, so they have him to read the letter.
       Somewhat later, there's a two-page, words-only spread that spells out the whole scenario and (limited) action, beginning:



       'Pictures are useful', it's suggested, in presenting this story, and the stories in the letters -- telling of: "the green and humid days before everything burned to a crisp". Blunt, like the text, Gébé's illustrations are indeed fairly effective in portraying in black and white the familiar comforts of lives before the apocalypse, and the grim after.
       As the letter notes, the family lived the straight-out-of-glossy-magazine-advertisements ideals -- the home, the car, the lifestyle. Absent here already is any sense of larger community: "In the human proliferation of the 80s, you were always to be seen on your own, just you four and the dog. The perfect family."
       Yet the image of the superficially 'perfect family' of course falls apart in crisis. Perhaps the most effective of the panels are the twin ones of before-and-during, showing the family dog that's left out in the cold when the family retreats down under, lying beside the hatch leading to the shelter which they've just locked themselves in (the father's parting words: "Good dog ! We'll be right back."):

Panel - Letter to Survivors

       In their isolation chamber, the family also frays and lets themselves go; the missives from above (beginning always cheerfully: "Dear friends") don't help. These stories-within-the-story tell of life in the days before the earth essentially came to an end -- scenes from life and history, fairy tales ('The Legend of King Jolly and Queen Glee'), and even a murder mystery (of sorts). One story involves a "totally loaded guy" who hired someone to: "blot little black squares" on his Modigliani, week by week, ever so slowly blotting out the master's painting. Another imagines an audience from long ago getting their first glimpse of projected pictures from the early days of photography.
       The family's reactions, and their life down under, alternate with the stories. The mailman's stories goad and prod them: recognizing some of what went wrong the last time -- specifically in acquiescing and accepting the powers that be, even in their increasing perversion -- there is, possibly, change in the (admittedly still poisoned ...) air.
       The conclusion spells things out more clearly -- suggesting where, and how, things might be headed --, revealing also that the mailman is part of something bigger -- a nice, almost hopeful ending .....
       With its varieties of imagery and stories, Letter to Survivors is, for all it succinctness, effective, a pointed critique of contemporary life (and suggestion to get one's life together -- in particular, in confronting the capitalist order and its power structures and the life it tries (so successfully) to sell to consumers -- or else ...).
       Quick and sharp, Letter to Survivors is a fine little graphic novel.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 January 2019

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Letter to Survivors: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French cartoonist Gébé (Georges Blondeaux) lived 1929 to 2004. He was also the editor of Charlie Hebdo from 1970 to 1985.

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© 2019 the complete review

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