Having just released Thoreau and Me, a philosophical musing on climate change, mass-consumerism, eco-accountability, creator Cédric Taling discusses what made him create the book, and his relationship with Walden author Henry David Thoreau. Where did the idea for Thoreau and Me come from?
As a teenager I read Henry David Thoreau's Civil Disobedience, which I really liked. More recently on the radio, I heard a programme about Thoreau and Walden, and the excerpts from Walden struck me as my partner and I were trying to consume less and strive towards a more grounded life at the time. This discussion made me want to tell the story in Thoreau and Me, and to highlight how in the middle of the 19th century Henry David Thoreau was already pointing the finger at over-consumption, over-information, over-capitalisation, and the need for ownership.
Thoreau appears in the book as a spirit of the past, can you talk about this idea?
In the story Thoreau is a kind of Jiminy Cricket, a conscience that I don't always want to hear. He is the witness of the unreasonable actions of Western civilisation during these last two centuries. In Thoreau and Me he shows how nothing has changed, or rather that our distance from nature is accelerating, whether it is ecological on a planetary scale, or even just in our personal lives. He is by my side every day in the book.
Have you been to Walden Pond?
No, a friend went there while I was drawing Thoreau and Me and sent me some pictures. I don’t know… I’m split. I find it a little ridiculous to rebuild the hut a few meters from where it was located, and the statue of Thoreau is just there for tourists in a way. For me it is much more interesting to read his book, the descriptions of the landscapes are magnificent. There is an incredible poetry that goes through his feelings.
You mentioned that Thoreau and Me is about dealing with the climate crisis, eco accountability and over-consumption, when did these subjects first take root for you?
I’ve been aware of being a consumer sheep for a long time. I haven’t had television for 20 years, don’t read the press, and cut off all sound when an advertisement is broadcast on the radio or on the internet. Many people have spoken to us about our voluntary servitude, like Etienne de la Boétie, Stéphane Hessel’s Be Indignant, Thoreau’s Walden and Civil Disobedience, and Krishnamurti’s The First and Last Freedom, and many authors have highlighted our lack of individual freedom and our desire to belong to this society by following its dogmas. It's hard to be authentic, and not to be envious. We’ve been taught to be part of the mass, to value and participate in the system when it’s anti-ecological and anti-social. It is an aberration to judge the ‘well-being’ of a country based on its consumption rate, especially when the produce is absolutely useless except perhaps to fill in a lack of love.
What message do you want to convey in Thoreau and Me, what’s the book about?
It’s about opening our eyes, as we are told bullshit constantly. It’s not a connected plastic gadget that will make us happier, we need to be more loving, closer to each other, less judgmental. Political powers are the guarantors of economic institutions that are ravaging everything. They will not move. I have the impression that the more we change in our habits, in our relationships with others, with nature, the less they move. Political and capitalist structures are static, they absorb the individual and also make them static and subject to automatisms. In Walden, I like it a lot when Thoreau explains that for travelling he walks rather than taking the train, because the time he saves to buy the ticket, he will have already arrived.
Do you think the climate crisis is something that can be solved at a global level, or do we need to explore ideas like in Walden and Thoreau and Me, and live in a self-sustaining, determined way?
As I said, I believe that nothing will come from governments. Nothing has ever come from governments except bad things. It is us and our movement towards a more socially and ecologically just world that will make change happen. I believe that if a social revolution imposes a truth instead of the current ‘truth’, it will not change again. I think that yes it would be well to let people explore their projects so that they can live their inner revolution, and this for me is exactly what Thoreau did when he left to build his cabin on the shore of Walden
This is your first graphic novel, what made you decide to create this style of book?
I needed to produce a drawn object in which I could be as authentic on the subject as I was being graphically and colour-wise. I have been a painter for more than ten years, navigating the throes of the contemporary art market, and I am tired of that industry. In a graphic novel, I have all the time to explore my story, I have fun having fun with drawing and colours. I wanted to share my anxieties, my questions, my contradictions in the face of climate and consumption issues and it was a real pleasure to speak to the “I”, especially since in the case of a drawn self it was a very cheerful and beneficial “I”.
How did you find the creative experience of making Thoreau and Me?
When I was little, I wanted to become a comic book writer. I studied for it, but in the end it was easier for me to have a career in painting. I think being a comic book author is the ultimate creative experience though; we are author, director, actor, photographer, we take care of the decor of the light - it's a full adventure. I love to go back in history with the characters wandering around, and it's much less static than painting. I also found that I could break the frame’s boundaries, it takes a long time, but I have time to take the time. It’s great, I find it much more creative and exciting than painting.
Finally then, what are your top tips for living a sustainable life?
Really I have no advice to give, I am far from being an example. Maybe just to fully embrace the experience and learn from it. I believe that you have to get rid of ideas and advice so that an experience is really lived. And be aware of what is really necessary for yourself and others in a form of happy and just sobriety.