Legends of the Tour
A graphic novel about the world’s greatest race
No sport is so closely associated with heroism and suffering as cycling. No spectacle nourishes the romance of gruelling struggle quite like the Tour de France. Ideal material for a graphic novel, thought Jan Cleijne, who conceived a story in ten evocative stages.
My work is all about life, silence, loneliness and desire, and I aim for a generally realistic and sketch-like style that gives prominence to atmosphere, light and colour.’ That is how Cleijne has described his artistic project, and no one opening Legends of the Tour will be disappointed. He plays a subtle game with his palette. The sepia of old photographs dominates the earliest episodes, in 1903, then yellow is introduced (from the maillot jaune) and the book ends in the bright colours of advertising.
Cleijne, himself an amateur racing cyclist, focuses on the sporting successes of legends like Jacques Anquetil, Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx, but this is no mere gallery of greats. Legends of the Tour shows the evolution of the sport from its naive beginnings – with competitors who stopped halfway for a beer – into today’s monstrous money-making machine to which so much, if not everything, has been sacrificed, epitomized by Lance Armstrong’s seven discredited victories.
How does Cleijne achieve this? He draws close-ups of suffering faces, of bent backs and tormented calf muscles, in a sketchy style that gives the images a fragile look, as vulnerable as the cyclists themselves. But he also has great imagination, seeing in the approaching pack a herd of raging bulls, or portraying the ‘cannibal’ Merckx as a titan ready to eat his teammates alive. We see the soul of Tom Simpson, who died on Mont Ventoux in 1967, blown from the mountain like a cloud of dust. Even the cult of excruciating effort can make a great graphic documentary.
- Filmic, evocative style; stunning drawings in an expressive range of colours that draw you in.
- Portrays sporting and personal highs and lows with an unfailing eye for detail.