Illustrator Stéphane Barroux and musician Julien bring alive the story of a WWI French soldier from the pages of his diary

World War I seems distant now. The War between 1914 and 1918 paved the way for major political changes.But our story is not about the war in general. It is about one French soldier, an everyman caught in a momentous event. Bringing this story alive are writer and illustrator Stéphane Barroux and musician Julien Joubert who breathed life to the WWI French soldier through their onstage graphic representation of his diary. Organised by Alliance Française de Bangalore, in collaboration with the National Gallery of Modern Art, the duo presented a visual and aural treat.

With Julien creating ambiences on his guitar and processors, Stéphane illustrated a narrative from the diary with his brushes. The storytelling with the music is punctuated by Stéphane’s drawings.

The illustrator paints on stage, accompanied by the guitar while a video camera hangs above the drawing table and the image is projected on a screen behind the performers. The images come to life brush stroke after brush stroke, right before the eyes of the audience.

Stéphane found the book quite by coincidence. Proving that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, he discovered the notebook hidden in a pile of old things destined for garbage on a winter day when he was walking down the streets of Paris. “Two men covered in grime were emptying out a basement,” the illustrator recalls. This notebook contained an incredibly rich human and historical testimony - the diary of a soldier during the very first months of the war in 1914. It begins with these words: “August 3, 1914: Today we’re off. Mobilisation has been declared and it’s time to go, leaving behind wife, children and family. My morale is good, it has to be.” The anonymous private who wrote this diary describes the beginning of the war, when all were still convinced they would be soon victorious, until his return in September after he was wounded.

Stéphane and Julien take the audience through the journey of the unknown warrior as he hides in trenches, fights along friends who quickly die and gives a glimpse of the petty issues of the war and his everyday battles. Sometimes hectic, sometimes endless, the long walks, the wait for the mail, the restless sleep, the din of the bombing and the boredom – these are what the presentation highlights.

The illustrator pencilled the diary into a graphic novel titled ‘On les aura’ which means ‘Line of Fire’. The idea of the onstage adaptation of the novel was to give more life to the story. With the electric guitar following the course of the story, Stéphane evokes and adds colour to the black ink projected on the screen with Julien’s melodic and ambient distortions. They conclude that their modern storytelling is only a means to give the audience enough freedom to let their imagination wander and add their own journey into the story that tends to linger for long after.