Notre-Dame de Paris

This is a project I did in the summer of 1998, on holiday in the Carpathians, before I was due to start high school. I really liked the message of the book written by Victor Hugo and published in 1831: a message of inner beauty, social injustice, but also a manifesto for restoring the Gothic architectural legacy in France (a new concept at that time, alongside the creation of nature parks and reserves).

However, the strongest pull towards illustrating this story myself were the outfits – Esmeralda’s clothes. This was my own manifesto for preserving details of fashion history as a more important source of information than the chronology of wars. Also, this project represented my “instant gratification” away from too many worries about my academic career. I was quite the procrastinator, and still am – except I used to believe the Blue Fairy on having to work hard, whereas now I trust in Candlewick’s wisdom, innocence and fun times… but that’s another story!

After all this time, to my surprise, I find out that Victor Hugo himself procrastinated endlessly before finally receiving an ultimatum from his publisher to finish the book in six months – to which he stepped up, devising to lock all his clothes away and prevent himself from socializing (less distractions, more writing). So get this: by illustrating Hugo’s book, I was procrastinating and drawing clothes, things which he had given up in order to write the book! What? There is also a funny rumour about him keeping one shawl to wear around the house, so as to avoid shocking his housekeeper, but no-one really believes it. Take a look at my gallery, if you don’t…

First in line are some different character designs I dug up in the fandom (and it seems I only scratched the surface, there are many more out there): my own version “direct and unmediated, from the book” (this is an important aspect, linking into a reader’s own archetypal landscape) then a French production, the Disney version, an Italian production, the illustration from the cover of the library book I borrowed here in Bucharest, and Noa’s Notre-Dame-themed video, Vivre – I used to “stalk” the latter during every music show on TV. (Cool thing recently: an openly gay female artist was inspired by the lyrics of Vivre I posted next to my drawing – “Libre de choisir sa vie, sans un anathème, sans un interdit” – and drew her own version of the scene with the columns, based on my old drawing. Is this how it feels to have a fan? It’s great!)

Here is the first version I drew of selected scenes (and the shawl):

Here is the second version, where I wrote the exact quotes I was referring to:

I practised my drawing skills some more by drawing Disney’s version – then compared the different endings, book vs. Disney, and what they could each mean for the overall message. Mind you, our VCR didn’t have an Image-Pause button, so I just watched the film an inordinate amount of times till I got all the details I needed (and learned the songs… I could still sing you God Help The Outcasts from memory right now).

One day I chose the Hunchback tape for a movie-screening assignment at high school where I was being routinely bullied by classmates and by members of the teaching staff alike (they hate tomboys, because of how we stand up on social issues and “challenge authority”) but the teacher said the dialogue was above the level of English understood by the bullies class, so next time please bring something “more appropriate to their level.” Right… I’ll let you debate the wisdom of such tall-poppy politics, because I was too pissed off to even bother. Anyway, I fared better a bit further away, oh like Japan! Most Japanese didn’t speak very good English either, but communicating with them was never the insurmountable problem I experienced with my classmates (apart from a few hilarious, harmless misunderstandings). I used my drawing to create cultural bridges, and the timing made it so that Esmeralda became that bridge. But in retrospect, what if this moment with the Japanese kids was one of those “Esmeralda’s dance shawl is really Victor Hugo’s locked-up clothes and the end of fun times for him” happening unconsciously? All work and no play does not make Jack a happy camper. It’s probably why he kills the character in the end, too – just sayin’…


Finally, in August 2012, I got to explore that architectural legacy of the Goths, with their sacred geometry and everything, which had until that moment been only an idea in a book of fiction. Most readers skip these lengthy descriptions because the action-filled chapters are more engaging, and I was no exception there. Because I hadn’t found the key yet: “I think… therefore I am an emotional beastie!”

There was no school psychologist during the time I was enrolled. I think that schools should give serious thought to the emotions experienced by youth every day, and simultaneously keep this interest non-invasive. It is very important to have schools be an environment where one’s inner world is allowed positive expression, to replace the violence and repression experienced at that age. One extremely problematic approach to addressing the issue of bullying is when the people with authority try to “help” by labelling bullies as “a lot less intelligent than the special person being bullied” and say that therefore the best method is this special person “ignoring it all, and it will stop.” This does extreme damage, by shutting children down emotionally (all of whom are in fact intelligent, just using it wrong) which is the complete opposite of gaining better emotional intelligence and quality relationships. Bullying most certainly does not stop affecting people if they close their eyes to it, even late into adulthood or if the adult is so-called “successful,” and that is why action needs to be taken against it – every individual has the power to change the world. A huge chunk of that power involves resisting the temptation to use one’s gifts or success as a way of degrading others, I somehow don’t think that is what those gifts are for… and that is why I was constantly frustrated in my later school years, since “challenging authority” is ultimately about inviting them to do right by their higher position and help those in need, not about trying to usurp the throne.