Pierre Dragon Describes Life of French Anti-Terrorism Officer

Pierre Dragon RG Intégrale

This Intégrale contains two RG “albums” by Pierre Dragon: “Riyad-sur-seine” and “Bangkok-Belleville”

Whenever I visit France or Quebec, I make it a point to visit as many bookstores as I can squeeze into my packed travel itinerary. Compared to the United States, the brick-and-mortar bookselling business is still thriving in France. The French people are not only buying books, they’re selling their books back to the store. As a result, you can often find livres d’occasion in mint condition for a fraction of what you would pay if you were to buy a new book and have it shipped to the United States. Among my purchases are always a handful of bandes dessinées. This year, I stumbled across a relatively new série policière by Pierre Dragon and Frederik Peeters, titled RG. The story behind how this series came into being is what attracted me. Now, having read two albums, I also appreciate the density of l’argot and jargon policier that it exposed me to and repeatedly reinforced.

Pierre Dragon attends a Saudis soirée

Grande soirée hosted by rich Saudis

Pierre Dragon is the nom de plume of the book’s author and the name of its main protagonist. Both author and streetwise hero are anti-terrorist officers that work the streets of Paris by day and by night. The title, RG, stands for Renseignements Generaux, the domestic espionage division of the national police. Pierre Dragon the author, an active-duty-anti-terrorism chief, teamed with Frederik Peeters, a Swiss graphic novelist and illustrator, to create the series.  Based on real-life events and activities of one of France’s most powerful and secretive security forces, the series portrays scenes ranging from the gritty underbelly of the nation’s capital to opulent soirées thrown by the criminal elite.

Pierre Dragon visits le Jardin des plantes

The divorced Officer Dragon takes his daughter to le Jardin des plantes.

According to the avant-propos, the idea for RG seems to have originated with Joann Sfar, a BD superstar in France. Sfar is perhaps best known in the United States for the film adaptation of his graphic novel, Le Chat du Rabbin. Nearly a decade before the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the real Pierre Dragon was assigned to watch over the offices of the controversial and provocative hebdomadaire. It was there that Sfar made Dragon’s acquaintance and immediately recognized his talent for storytelling. Without using real names or details that would allow the listener to identify the parties involved, Dragon described car chases, stakeouts, illegal trafficking of goods and people, as well as Parisian nightlife and the familial problems that plague the lives of undercover officers.

Pierre Dragon treats the FBI to kebabs

Officer Dragon treats American FBI agents to kebabs at one of the many middle eastern restaurants in Paris.

Sfar recognized the raw materials for a first-rate graphic novel and introduced Dragon to illustrator Frederik Peeters. While Peeters cared little for the world of flics et voleurs, he was interested in depicting the unfamiliar backstreets and venues of one of the world’s most famous capitals. He welcomed the challenge of portraying the everyday life of a dedicated public servant, the tedium as well as the high-intensity moments of action. As a result, a glowing review by Le Figaro described RG as “…on the border between documentary and genre film”.

Pierre Dragon visits the U.S. Embassy

Officer Dragon pays a visit to the U.S. Embassy.

I wouldn’t go as far as comparing the series to a documentary but it definitely has an air of realism that is much truer-to-life than a typical detective comic strip or even a television series. As an added bonus, Pierre Dragon’s vocabulary, and that of his peers, is filled with slang and expressions that typically go right over my head when watching French video. Encountering these words in print afforded me the time to put them in context, guess at their meaning, and look up definitions if necessary. Below is a list of some that stand out. I’ll be listening for them next time I stream a season of Engrenages or take in a French thriller at the theater. All in all, I gained a lot from this unplanned purchase, one of many that I’ve made over the years that make French bookstores an incontournable stop whenever I travel.

Definitions

une balance
a snitch
cracher le morceau
to spit it out, spill the beans
le culot
nerve, audacity
détronché
spotted, recognized
ça t’écorcherait la gueule de…?
would it have killed you to…?
filer un tuyau à qqn
to give someone a tip, as in helpful information
filocher
to follow, tail
un filou
a huckster
filouter
to swindle
être grillé
have your cover blown
un indic
an informant
un lupanar
a whorehouse
mâcher le travail à qqn
to do someone’s work for them
né d’une partouze
this insult goes one step further than son-of-a-bitch as it signifies being the product of an orgy
une pêche
a punch or whack
un pif
a schnozz
planquer
to stake out
un ponte
a bigwig
rentrer au bercail
to come home
un ricain
Yankee, American
serrer
to arrest
société écran
dummy company, used as a front for an illegal operation
surveiller qqn comme le lait sur le feu
to watch someone like a hawk
se ventouser
to follow closely (une ventouse is a suction cup)

About Carol A. Seidl

Serial software entrepreneur, writer, French to English translator, mother, lover of: books, travel, history, cultures, cooking, fitness, nature

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