Title of the work
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Nicolas Presl, Priape. Geneva: Atrabile, 2006, 208 pp.
Comics (Graphic works)
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Author of the Entry:
Joanna Kłos, University of Warsaw, email@example.com
Peer-reviewer of the Entry:
Elżbieta Olechowska, University of Warsaw, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Susan Deacy, University of Roehampton, email@example.com
, b. 1976
Nicolas Presl was born in Vendée in 1976. He graduated in Arts at Haute-Bretagne University in Rennes. He started his career as a stone mason, yet later became a well-known French author of graphic novels created with a very characteristic drawing manner – inspired, as he claims, by George Grosz, Pablo Picasso and Francis Picabia – with stories based on his outstanding erudition. His other works are: Divine colonie (2008) with the plot set in 15th-century Italy and an unnamed African colony; Fabrica (2009) situated in a huge military factory and Les fils de l'ours père (2010). In 2010 he also started collaborating as a teacher with the French Victor-Hugo High School in Sophia, Bulgaria.
Bio prepared by Joanna Kłos, University of Warsaw, firstname.lastname@example.org
Polish (edition, not translation, as this graphic novel does not include text; only the title is translated): Priap. Kraków: Lokator, 2014.
The story is set in Greco-Roman times. A child is born to a family living in the city. It is a boy with an extremely large penis – the family is horrified. The father orders the newborn Priapus to be abandoned in the wild. A shepherd finds the boy and decides to rise him together with his own son. Unfortunately for the boy, he is mistreated by his foster father and bullied by his foster brother. On top of that, the foster brother wins the heart of a girl that Priapus is attracted to. In despair he escapes to the city. There he immediately becomes fascinated by the city’s diversity but he lacks the money to live there. An older wealthy man invites Priapus to live in his house and then initiates him to an intellectual circle that he belongs to. Priapus soon becomes an object of the homoerotic affection of his host, but he declines his sexual attention.
Meanwhile, Priapus' foster brother comes to the city as well and becomes a soldier. Shortly after that Priapus is attracted to another older man from the philosopher's circle and he lets the man seduce him. This turns out to be a painfully short affair – among other things, due to the fact that Priapus' lover is married. Desperate, the boy decides to kill the man’s wife. After the murder, a female servant recognizes Priapus as the child abandoned in the wild (thanks to a lock of hair she put in a small vessel years earlier). Priapus' lover is his biological father – when he comes back home, he finds out that his wife is dead and that he had unwittingly committed incest with his son.
The next pages of the novel present a cathartic projection that seems to take place in Priapus' and his father's mind at the same time. At the theatrical stage Priapus' father sees his wife giving birth to a boy who gets rid of her umbilical cord; meanwhile Priapus experiences ridicule, scorn, and beatings by people.
Immediately after that, in the real world of the story, the father commits suicide; Priapus' foster brother, the soldier, arrives to arrest him; shocked and outraged, he gouges Priapus' eyes out. Finally, the man who took Priapus in at the beginning of the story decides to take care of the blind youth. They leave together and live as beggars not far from the city gates.
The graphic novel is a retelling of Oedipus' story with a reversal: Priapus does not kill his father, but his mother; and he does not marry his mother, but becomes his father's lover. What is more, the man in love with Priapus is similar to Antigone in his decision to leave the city with the blind boy – this is just what Oedipus' daughter did for her father.
It is possible to raise doubts about whether Presl's story is an example of children’s and young adults’ literature, as it contains a great deal of sexual and violent content. However, it must be emphasized that the novel has the ambition of being educational in dealing with an issue that is very typical for YA literature: how to distinguish more superficial attractions from deeper affection and attachments; also, like many narratives for children, the novel deals with the problem of how painful the process of growing up can be.
Xavier Guilbert, Nicolas Presl [interview], “du9: l’autre bande dessinée”, February 2009, available online at www.du9.org (accessed: August 3, 2018).
Tomasz Pindel, Bez słów: trzy razy Nicolas Presl [REVIEW], “Kultura Liberalna” 277(17/2014), 29.04.2014 (www.kulturaliberalna.pl/2014/04/29/bez-slow-trzy-razy-nicolas-presl-komiks/, accessed November 30th 2016).