Voyage en Italie, by Cosey
'Voyage en Italie'.

Cosey is one of the most important Swiss comic artists of all time. He was part of a new generation of European comic artists who emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, making stories for more mature audiences rather than just children. He broke new ground with his philosophical travel stories, many of them one-shot albums, but also created the full-blown series 'Jonathan' (1975). Cosey's characters are always on the search, both literally and mentally. His comics depict picturesque landscapes set in Europe, Asia or America, but are first and foremost intelligent character studies where the protagonists undertake a spiritual journey to find their inner self. Cosey presents his stories as multi-media experiences. In each album he suggests novels, films and music recordings which fit the mood of that particular story. It's up to the reader to check them out before or after reading his work. Or - in the case of his recommended songs - play them as background music.

Pol Aroid by Cosey
'Les Aventures de Paul Aroïd'.

Early life
Bernard Cosendai, better known as Cosey, was born in 1950 in Lausanne, Switzerland, but part of his family was born in the United States. He often wondered what his life would've been if he had been raised there? Such dreams of living in another country would have a profound impact on his personal interests. From a young age Cosey had great interest in literature, particularly the work of J.D. Salinger, Bruce Chatwin, Nicolas Bouvier, Paul Theroux, Saul Bellow, Raymond Carver, Russell Banks, T.C. Boyle, Carl Gustav Jung and Haruki Murakami. In the field of comics his graphic influences are Walt Disney, Derib, Hugo Pratt, Jijé, Raymond Macherot, André Franquin, Maurice Tillieux, Christophe Blain, René Sterne, Zep, Daniel Clowes, Art Spiegelman, Joann Sfar, Hergé and Chris Ware. In a 2011 interview by Wouter Porteman and Peter D'Herdt he also surprised the journalists by expressing his admiration for the atmosphere, characters and suspense of the 'Suske en Wiske' album 'De Lachende Wolf' ('The Laughing Wolf') by Willy Vandersteen, even though he felt the drawings were "rather mediocre" and he never read another album in the series since. Another passion is music, which he loves so much that he frequently namedrops and recommends certain tracks and albums to his readers.

'Un Shampooing Pour la Couronne'.

Early comics
In 1969, one of his drawings won third prize in a contest organized by the magazine Spirou. Cosey originally worked as a graphic designer for an advertising agency when he happened to read a newspaper interview with his idol, Derib. He had tremendous admiration for Derib since he was the only professional Swiss comic artist to enjoy some international fame. Cosey wrote Derib a letter and was immediately hired as his assistant. He colored several of Derib's series, such as 'Go West!' and 'Yakari'. Both men discovered they had several common interests like psychology, philosophy and spiritualism. In 1971 Cosey illustrated three stories of the series 'Monfreyd et Tilbury', scripted by André-Paul Duchâteau. They were serialized in Le Soir Jeunesse, the youth supplement of the Belgian newspaper Le Soir. A year later he joined the Swiss daily paper 24 Heures, where he published 'Paul Aroïd', a comic about a journalist. It was the first comic to be both completely written and drawn by him. Another story starred a character named 'Saphorin Ledoux', in whom a prototypical version of 'Jonathan' can be recognized. Publishing & Copyright published his first album in 1974, called 'Un Shampooing Pour la Couronne' (text by Jacques Ralf, colors by Marianne).

Jonathan, by Cosey
Jonathan #2 - 'Et la Montagne Chantera pour Toi'.

In 1975 Cosey managed to become a contributor to one of the most widely read comic magazines of that time: Tintin. Originally he didn't want to apply for a job there, since his mentor Derib also appeared in it and his comic might have been perceived as a rip-off of his work. But since they were the only magazine willing to publish his work he just went for it. Cosey's series, 'Jonathan', was quite unusual for Tintin's regular output. Its main character, Jonathan, is no real "hero" in the traditional sense. Nothing what he does is particularly something to look up to, yet he is no anti-hero either. The first story, 'Souviens-toi, Jonathan' (1975) introduces him as a young Swiss traveller in the Himalaya. He goes on a journey to find a Tibetan girl he once loved: Saïcha and adopts a feral child, Drolma, along the way. The story didn't rely on action or adventure that much, but more on what Jonathan thought and felt. And even then there were no conclusive messages or answers. While Jonathan looked for more meaning to his life he read introspective literature, such as the works of psychologist Carl Gustav Jung and the Hinduist scriptures The Vedas. Jonathan also enjoys the films of Woody Allen and frequently listens to popular music like Pink Floyd, Mike Oldfield, Tangerine Dream, Ravi Shankar, Keith Jarrett, Bob Dylan, Oregon, Brian Eno, Kate Bush, Terje Rypdal, Eric Clapton, the Pat Metheny Group, Chicago, Dave Grusin, Neil Young, The Kinks, Air, Midnight Oil, Toru Takemitsu, John Cage and traditional Tibetan folk music. Cosey didn't just namedrop these artists and titles. He sometimes had them actually appear within the stories, as part of Jonathan's imagination. 'Jonathan' is such a multimedia experience that it's amazing that so far none of the albums have ever been adapted to film...

Jonathan by Cosey
Jonathan #4 - 'Le Berceau du Bodhisattva'.

Despite - or thanks to - the unusualness 'Jonathan' struck a chord with readers. Many teenagers and twentysomethings could relate to a quest for their inner self. The books, films and music recommended by the author also motivated readers to check these works out and expand their cultural horizons. Naturally the very idea of travelling alone in a faraway country was also appealing. Particularly Tibet was a mysterious destination for the West at the time. There was little documentation available as the Chinese government had kept its frontier closed for tourists. Apart from Hergé's 'Tintin in Tibet' (1960) the country had rarely been explored in comics either. Cosey was quickly asked to make 'Jonathan' a regular series, and he did. With enough ideas for more narratives the artist decided to actually travel to Tibet in person to get a better sense of the culture and to collect more firsthand visual documentation. After Mao Zedong's death in 1976 this actually became a bit easier too. From that moment on Cosey would base all his next albums on his own personal travel experiences. This is also the great strength of his work. His albums feel like genuine travel reports with realistic plot developments. This makes his stories all the more credible.

Jonathan by Cosey
Jonathan #7 - 'Kate'.

Cosey created eleven 'Jonathan' stories between 1975 and 1986. One of his most popular stories was 'Kate' (1981), which introduced the recurring female character Kate whom many fans of the series like. The album in question received the Prix Alfred for "Best Album" at the Comics Festival of Angoulême, France. The album 'Le Privilège du Serpent' (1982) was notable for featuring a cameo of Derib in the role of the character Casimir, after Derib had given Cosey a role in the 'Buddy Longway' story 'Trois Hommes Sont Passés' (1976). From the story 'Neal et Sylvester' on Cosey left the colouring to his assistants Fraymond and Paûle Ceppi, wife of Daniel Ceppi. After 1986 Cosey took a long break from the series, only to revive 'Jonathan' in 1997 and make five albums more.

Jonathan #12 - 'Celui Qui Mene les Fleuves a la Mer'.

À La Recherche de Peter Pan
In 1978 Cosey went to Burbank, California, to apply for a job at the Walt Disney Company. They showed interest, but he eventually came back on the idea, since he would lose his creative freedom. During the second stage of his career Cosey focused more on character-driven one-shot albums instead of entire series. He felt that over the course of several albums a character like Jonathan already had a clearly defined past by now. By creating one-shot albums he would be allowed much greater creative freedom. His first full-length one-shot comic story was 'À la Recherche de Peter Pan' ('Searching for Peter Pan', 1984-1985). Set in the 1930s, it tells the tale of a British novelist who travels to the Swiss Alps to search inspiration for his next book, but also to find out more about the death of his half brother Dragan, who died in a local hotel. In his back pocket he carries a copy of James Barrie's play 'Peter Pan'. During his journey he learns that he has to be quick, since the village where the hotel is located could get covered in an avalanche once one of the glaziers breaks. Yet something strange is going on, because he often notices a pianist in the local hotel playing compositions his brother used to play... At the time the graphic novel was a serious risk. Cosey's publisher Lombard didn't believe it would sell, since audiences would rather follow a series than a one-shot album. When the comic was published in Tintin, one erotic scene was censored, which also happened in the English/American translation. Yet despite all odds 'À la Recherche de Peter Pan' became both a critical as well as commercial success, even outselling any other comic he made since or before. In 1988 it won the Max und Moritz Award for "Best Comic Book Publication". Some readers even regard as superior to any of his 'Jonathan' titles.

Saigon-Hanoi by Cosey

'Voyage en Italie' and other 1980s and 1990s comics
In 1988 Cosey drew 'Voyage en Italie' ('Travel to Italy', 1988), which follows a depressive Vietnam veteran and his friend who travel from the USA to Italy. They decide to look for a former girlfriend they both once had a relationship with. To their surprise she turns out to have joined a monastery, where she takes care of Keo, a young Cambodian refugee who is illegal in the country. Keo dreams of visiting the United States and thus the three friends take it upon them to bring the little girl there, no matter how difficult this attempt will be. Normally Cosey would've published the comic in Tintin magazine, but their sales were already heading towards bankruptcy at this point and Lombard didn't even show interest in his story. Luckily, Jean van Hamme had launched the graphic novel collection Aire Libre at Éditions Dupuis, which focused on more mature readers. 'Voyage en Italie' became one of the collection's earliest titles and was a critical success, paving the way for more one-shot stories by Cosey. 'Orchidéa' (1990) tells the story of an old man, Ellsworth Humelsine, who lives in a rest home. When his family wants to surprise him for his birthday it turns out that he has been missing for four days. As they are informed where he might be hanging out they start searching for him. 'Saigon-Hanoi' (1992) deals with a Vietnam veteran returning home after the war and who tries to pick up his civilian life again. To make the story Cosey spent two months in Vietnam. The comic book won the Prix Alfred for "Best Story" at the Comics Festival of Angoulême. 'Joyeux Noël, May' (1995) is set in the snowy hills of the Rocky Mountains, where a young female author gets cut off from her mother by heavy snowfall. While stuck in the little village Mize, Colorado, she strikes a friendship with another mysterious woman...

'Zeke Raconte des Histoires'

'Zeke Raconte des Histoires' (1999) is a more experimental album. It focuses on a man named Zeke who appears to have disappeared, but who in reality leads a reclusive life in Mekong. The tale swings back and forth between two people who tried to find Zeke and scenes where Zeke entertains listeners with tall tales about his extraordinary life, which are told in flashbacks. 'Une Maison de Frank L. Wright' (2003) also deals with memories. It tells four stories about unfulfilled youth romances and the second chances occuring later in adulthood. The book was notable for being Cosey's first short story collection and a move to a simpler drawing style. The fourth tale in the collection, 'Sur L'île", is Cosey's most personal story, paying homage to all the comics he read during his youth.

'Zélie Nord-Sud'

Comics in the 2000s
In 2005 Cosey received the honor of creating the first album of Dupuis' 'Empreintes' collection. The book in question was the two-parter, 'Le Bouddha d'Azur' (2005-2006), which was prepublished in Spirou. The story is set in the early 1960s during the Chinese occupation of Tibet. A young English kid, Gifford, travels to Tibet as a stowaway, but things go wrong and he has to get there by foot. As he arrives in a local village he falls in love with the townspeople, as well as the mysterious girl Lhahl. The second album takes place ten years later, at the same location. In addition, Cosey produced 'Echo' for publisher Daniel Maghen (2007). 'Zélie, Nord-Sud' (1994) was an assignment of the "Direction de l'Aide au Développement et à la Coopération", a unit of the Swiss Ministery of Foreign Affairs who do humanitarian work in Third World countries. As part of his research, Cosey visited Burkina Faso and Mali. He was allowed a certain degree of creative freedom and made it a story about a black Swiss girl who returns to her roots in Central Africa. The story was colored by Valott, prepublished in Hello Bédé and published in the Signé collection of Lombard. The most obscure story in Cosey's bibliography is the two-parter 'Champéry, été 1863' (2004). This album was released by the Swiss preservation organisation Le Patrimoine Champérolain to celebrate their 10th anniversary and is therefore only available at Champéry's tourist office and local book store 'Dents du Midi'. Co-created with Fabrice Clément, it is set during the late 18th and early 19th century and follows the life of Gustin, a soldier in Napoleon's army.

Le Bouddha d'Azur by Cosey
'Le Bouddha d'Azur'.

Mickey Mouse
In 2016 Cosey drew 'Une Mystérieuse Mélodie, où Comment Mickey Rencontra Minnie' (Glénat, 2016), a story starring Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse. The comic book was made with official permission by the Walt Disney Company, and the publisher also invited other comic artists to make similar Mickey stories, such as Lewis Trondheim, Régis Loisel, Tébo and Nicolas Kéramidas. The graphic novel is set in Hollywood in 1927. Mickey is depicted as a scriptwriter who tries to make a living there, meeting Minnie along the way. The story is quite a break in tradition for Cosey, as it is drawn in the usual jolly Disney style, rather than his own realistic drawings. Much of the imagery is reminiscent of Floyd Gottfredson's style.

In 2017 Cosey released 'Calypso' (Futuropolis, 2017), a contemporary graphic novel in black-and-white, about a detoxing actress who stages her own kidnapping.

Mickey Mouse by Cosey
'Une Mystérieuse Mélodie, où Comment Mickey Rencontra Minnie'.

Book illustrations
Cosey is also active as an illustrator, providing novels such as Jacques Salomé's 'L'Enfant Bouddha' (1993), Jean-Charles Bernardini's 'Le Vol de l'Aigle' (2002) and Yves Blanc's 'Les Guetteurs du Passé' (2010) with drawings.

Graphic contributions
Cosey was one of several artists to make a graphic contribution to 'Pepperland’ (1980), a collective comic book tribute to the store Pepperland, to celebrate its 10th anniversary at the time. In 1981 Cosey was one of several artists to draw a comic strip homage to John Lennon, after the former Beatle was assassinated a year earlier, in a special issue of (À Suivre). Cosey was also one of many artists to sign the petition to find about more about the mysteriously disappeared comic writer Hector G. Oesterheld whom many presume was murdered by soldiers under the regime of Argentinian dictator Jorge Rafael Videla. Cosey made a graphic contribution to 'Baston Labaffe no. 5: La Ballade des Baffes’ (Goupil, 1983), an official collective parody comic of  André Franquin’s 'Gaston Lagaffe’. Cosey drew a homage to Derib in the tribute album 'Les Amis de Buddy Longway' (1983) and honoured Nikita Mandryka in the collective comic book 'Tronches de Concombre' (Dupuis, 1995). In 1995 he was one of 20 comic artists (Zep, Ptiluc, Frank Margerin, Yslaire, Philippe Vuillemin, Milo Manara, Loustal, Gilbert Shelton, Max Cabanes, Dupuy & Berberian, François Boucq, Gérald Poussin, Thomas Ott, Frank Pé, Frank Le Gall, Riff Reb's, Eric Buche, Enrico Marini and Valott) to create a special album cover for a musical artist, in his case Youssou N'Dour. Cosey also paid homage to Hergé in the two-page story 'La Rencontre' (1986), where Jonathan meets two people spending the night inside a plane wreck in the snowy mountains of the Himalaya. Both are a realistically-drawn version of Tintin and Captain Haddock and refer to a scene from 'Tintin in Tibet'. On 21 January 2003 Cosey also drew a new 'Tintin' album cover, 'Tintin au Tibet Occupé' ('Tintin in Occupied Tibet') for Le Figaro to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Angoulême Comics Festival. He also drew a graphic tribute to René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's 'Astérix' for 24 Heures at the occasion of the series' 50th anniversary. A decade later he paid tribute to the same franchise in 'Générations Astérix' (2019). 

Cosey was awarded the Prix Saint-Michel Avenir (1976) and the Grand Prix Saint-Michel (1979). The 'Jonathan' story, 'Katy', won the 1981 Prix Alfred for 'Best Album' at the Angoulême Festival. 'Á La Recherche du Peter Pan' won the 1988 Max und Moritz Award for 'Best Comic Book Publication'. In 2017 he received the Grand Prix du Festival d'Angoulême for his entire career. He was honored with a career retrospective at the 2018 edition of the festival.

Legacy and influence
Cosey has had a strong influence on several European comic artists, particularly in the graphic novel genre. In Switzerland he inspired Rafael Morales and Zep. In France he he is admired by AlgesirasMichel Plessix and Stéphane Servain, while in Belgium he influenced Jeroen JanssenMarvano and Erika Raven

The World of Cosey

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