Non verbis, sed rebus : a Farewell to Honoré


Philippe Honoré was killed yesterday in Paris. He was one of the victims of  the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the bloodiest terrorist attack in the French capital since 1835’s “machine infernale” on the Boulevard du Temple. He was loved by French Fans of Crime Fiction, who found his drawings in Charlie Hedbo, and in publications such as Le Magazine littéraire,  Le Monde and Les Inrockuptibles. In the monthly mainstream literary magazine Lire, he published his famous Rebus, the  “Rébus d’Honoré”. They mainly consisted in pictograms representing names of authors, title of literary works, or famous quotes in rebus form. The following (see below) is for example Honoré’s representation of the American inventor of Crime Fiction.


And the Following is the name of a famous French fictional 19th-century  rogue, whose name  has become common in various languages to describe implausible adventure stories, and plots full of unexpected  twists. Les Drames de Paris, introducing his adventures, was published  in 1857.


The existence of a riddle is the first criteria of the detective novel (hence Régis Messac’s  insistence in considering Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus Rex in the genealogy of the genre) and Honoré’s affinity with this genre is evident. The poetics of the rebus (Non verbis, sed rebus) relying on  things, rather than words to express ideas can be linked, too, with what has been seen by critics as the noir “cinematographic” narration :  a genre-defining commitment to using an “objective” style, to  showing, rather than telling. Honoré’s graphic style, too, marked by sharp contrasts, shadows,  with drawings often in black and white and reminiscent of woodcut printing was “noir”.


This was in evidence in his illustration of crime fiction.



This stark quality contributed to  make his press illustrations so powerful. The image below was his last published drawing on Charlie Hebdo’s twitter account, on the morning of his assassination.




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