What if Ingrid Betancourt had travelled to the Colombian jungle after agreeing to a fake high-profile kidnapping? What if Nicolas Sarkozy had orchestrated her rescue to boost his popularity ratings and to settle an old score with former primer minister Dominique de Villepin?
Just as Franco-Colombian politician and former FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt launches her memoirs, Even Silence Has an End, a whole different version of her story is also hitting bookstores in France. Ingrid de la Jungle (Ingrid of the Jungle), a comic book written by French writers Serge Scotto and Eric Stoffel, and illustrator Richard di Martino, is a highly politically incorrect take on Betancourt's captivity and its political implications in France.
The comic book's heroine is Ingrid Pétancourt, a dashing young politician kidnapped by the FARCE rebels in the tropical country of Equatorial Colombine. In Scotto and Stoffel's biting satire, the heroine is multi-faceted to say the least: devout Catholic one day, selfish hostage the next, the adorable public figure thinks nothing of leaving her biggest admirer in the rain because she is waiting for a phone call from Nelson Mandela.
But the comic book is more than just about Pétancourt. It takes a shot at the whole French political establishment. There's Sarko, the French interior minister turned president whose height and popularity are inversely proportional to his ego and ambitions, and whose main dream is to marry a beautiful singer. Then there is Dominique de Grillepain, the prime minister who has sworn eternal love to Pétancourt, and who turns into a Hulk-like monster each time he hears Sarko's name. The cast also includes Carla Bruti -a singer who wins a juicy contract to become the unpopular president's wife-, Chibrac -a former president constantly worried by the prospect of ending his days in jail- and his wife Bernadette, who seems plucked out from the court of Marie Antoinette.
Extracts from the comic book "Ingrid of the Jungle"
Ingrid Pétancourt tricked into travelling to a FARCE camp by a guerilla leader. The second strip reads: "But Raoulo, what about our amazing night in Bogota? You promised to help me become president! You said a fake hostage-taking would be good for my image!"
Pétancourt's vision of "sharing" food with fellow hostages.
One of Pétancourt's many attempted escapes...
A failed commando mission to free Pétancourt. (In July 2007, the French secret service reportedly attempted to enter FARC territory disguised as aid workers).
President Chibrac tells off Prime Minister De Grillepain for the failed French commando mission to free Pétancourt, above.
Dominique de Grillepain turns into the Incredible Hulk whenever he hears Sarko's name. Here, on the May 6 presidential election.
Apon her release and return to Paris, Ingrid breaks the heart of her besotted admirer, Dominique de Grillepain.
All images courtesy of the publisher Fluide Glacial.
"Other authors told me ''You can't touch Ingrid Betancourt, she’s a saint, you will never find a publisher!'"
Serge Scotto is a French writer, best known for registering Saucisse, his dog and alter ego, for the Marseille municipal elections in 2001. He is one of the authors of Ingrid of the Jungle.
The idea occurred to me on the day she was rescued. I was sitting with a group of comic authors at a book fair when suddenly the mayor of the town appeared. There were bells, flags and a grand improvised speech to announce her being freed. It was so exaggerated, as if it had been France's liberation in 1945! It was too much, and I decided that somebody had to make fun of it.
I told the other authors about my idea, but they said ‘You can't touch Ingrid Betancourt, she's a saint, you will never find a publisher!' Eric Stoffel was the only one to back me and we were soon embarked on our project. Ironically, during the year and a half we worked on the album, people's perception of her changed a lot, often due to her actions. And we finished the book even before she sued the Colombian and French governments!
We were attracted to the character of Betancourt because we realised we saw her everywhere, yet we didn't know her at all. We only had an official, symbolic image of her. The truth is that she wasn't an ordinary hostage like the others. Has such a fuss ever been made over a hostage before? The sad thing is that nobody will care about any other hostage for another ten years or so. She has taken the space of them all. Look at the difference in media attention given to the two French journalists kidnapped in Afghanistan. We never even hear about the FARC in the media any more!
It's not only about her though. More than anything it was a political issue, involving half of our political class over two successive presidencies and governments. As French citizens, we were very interested in imagining what had happened behind the scenes. The whole story was so absurd that we only had to push it a little further for it to become a farce. We didn't disallow ourselves anything!
We looked at the story from a French perspective. We caricatured the jungle and the guerrillas just as we imagine them here, just like we also drew the French as we are seen abroad - wearing a beret and carrying a Camembert cheese, a bottle of red wine and a baguette tucked under one arm. We were careful not to mock Colombians because we know almost nothing about them, other than what is portrayed in the French media.