Skip to main content

750 Years in Paris

Review

750 Years in Paris

750 YEARS IN PARIS is a literary graphic novel that sets itself apart from the rest of the pack. A wordless look at the evolution of the beautiful and tumultuous city of Paris, France, Vincent Mahé takes us on a journey through time without ever leaving the same spot.

Up until recently, Vincent Mahé was a relative unknown name in artistic communities. His wonderful style has remedied his obscurity rather quickly, though, as he has created a few works now that have gotten him international acclaim. Using a flat color technique that draws parallels to luminaries like Roman Muradov, Mahé creates a compelling look at a single building on a Parisian street as it changes throughout history. Also, there are absolutely no words in this book, so as you turn each page, you are transported to another year that is important to the history of Paris and the world at large.

One of the strengths of this book is the lack of words, and therefore a lack of explanation of what is being painted upon each page. Thankfully, the last page in the book gives a list of the most important dates, with the historical event that transpired during that time. This also outlines the inherent beauty of a book like this, because all the artistic representations that Mahé puts on the page are drawn from historically accurate events. To take in the book without flipping to the back immediately, it truly plays on your knowledge of history, but it also forces you to look closely at the details meticulously planted in each scene. Just in looking at a single building on a random street in Paris, you feel like you’re getting a front row seat to some of the craziest events in human history, as well as the creation, and evolution, of one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

"750 YEARS IN PARIS does show that no matter what seems to befall this important city, depicted by the single evolving building throughout the book, it will pick itself up, rebuild, and be stronger and more beautiful than ever before."

The book opens up in the year 1240, which is actually depicted on the cover and the title page. This sets the scene, as you see the lone building being crafted from stone and wood, with characters dressed in clothes of the time and monks leading a procession. The actual beginning of the 750 years is in 1265, which depicts the finished edifice. The first major event is the next page, in 1270, when the Knights Templar made their way through Paris on the way to the Crusades. Again, you might not know the exact date an event like that happened in history, but Mahé's detailed depiction of the Knights Templar walking in front of the building with their unmistakable banners is enough to key you into what is happening.

Upon first picking up this book, a casual reader might flip through the pages too quickly, especially because sometimes adjacent pages seem to have little changes in them. But the idea behind such a graphic novel, coupled with the immense amount of life that Mahé breathes into each scene, will eventually entice you to slow down and take it all in. Some of the scenes are strikingly different than previous ones, though, and those add more weight to the history that is witnessed by the reader.

By the year 1515, the small little building has almost doubled in size, and the grand procession of Francis I is shown making its way through the city to celebrate his coronation. There are gruesome scenes like the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 with small details to point out the slaughter of the Protestants of Paris. Also, the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution in 1789 and the siege of Paris in 1870. Yet beauty is also shown throughout history, as this resilient city and the book’s lone building rebuild itself again and again to become larger and stronger. The final scene is of 2015, when four million people took to the streets to defend freedom of speech in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, which is depicted with grace and remembrance of such a tumultuous and poignant time in the history of Paris and the world.

That is the true purpose of this book, to depict the historical events that shaped such an important and incredible city of the world. Paris has been the center of a lot of turmoil and renaissance throughout the 750 years that are depicted, and Mahé does a brilliant job bringing all those events to life in a minimalistic way. Nobrow Press also helps to bring this book to life, publishing it in an oversized (8 ¼” X 13 ⅛”) volume that is bound in their usual profound and wonderful style.

In a true, and unfortunate, “life imitates art” moment, the story of this city is ever ongoing. As I sat down to pen this review on November 13, 2015, my Twitter feed starting bringing me the first alerts of several attacks in Paris this night, including a hostage situation at a theater, a mass shooting at a restaurant, and a bombing at a soccer stadium where President Francois Hollande was. It made all the more reason to read this incredible book through one more time as I felt a rush of emotions for Paris with the rest of the world. 750 YEARS IN PARIS does show that no matter what seems to befall this important city, depicted by the single evolving building throughout the book, it will pick itself up, rebuild, and be stronger and more beautiful than ever before.

Reviewed by Jeff Ayers on November 20, 2015

750 Years in Paris
by Vincent Mahé

  • Publication Date: October 20, 2015
  • Genres: Graphic Novel, History
  • Hardcover: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Nobrow
  • ISBN-10: 1907704930
  • ISBN-13: 9781907704932