BD 2020: FRANCE LOVES COMICS
Comic books are an essential part of French society and the Ministry of Culture has announced that 2020 would be dedicated to the people contributing to the beloved 9th Art. From a "French Comics Apéro" to a "Drink & Draw with Sébastien Vassant", follow our programme online! To brush up your knowledge, we have put together a list of cult comic books and interviews by graphic artists you should definitely listen to.
Our first "French Comics Apéro" will be dedicated to a unique sub-genre of comic books, usually knows as "La Bande Dessinée Documentaire".
After the success of Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2000), the last fifteen years have seen a rise in the publications of comic strips inspired by reality. Even more radical authors with highly politicised works have become an important editorial niche.
S'enfuir – récit d'un otage by Guy Delisle
In the middle of the night in 1997, Doctors Without Borders administrator Christophe André was kidnapped by armed men and taken away to an unknown destination in the Caucasus region. For three months, André was kept handcuffed in solitary confinement, with little to survive on and almost no contact with the outside world. Close to twenty years later, award-winning cartoonist Guy Delisle (Pyongyang, Jerusalem, Shenzhen, Burma Chronicles) recounts André’s harrowing experience in Hostage, a book that attests to the power of one man’s determination in the face of a hopeless situation.
A group of women has also turned to this specific genre to raise questions about issues they are directly concerned which such as mental load, street harassment, the lack of women working in scientific fields, etc.
Mental Load by Emma
Emma for instance gained a very wide audience online after putting her illustrations on a blog. She later published several volumes to critical acclaim, leading to the translation of the comic books in multiple languages. She has also contributed to the popularisation of the concept of "mental load" – a term used by sociologists to describe the efforts women have to put into the organisation that goes into running a household.
Have a look at her blog.
Les Culottés by Pénélope Bagieu
Pénélope Bagieu has also been a pioneer in the use of a blog to get herself out there. We were delighted to welcome her at the Institut a few years back.
Listen to her talk on Culturethèque.
Tu mourras moins bête by Marion Montaigne
Finally, we would like to mention Marion Montaigne, whose work has shown that women are more than capable of working in scientific fields. Her spirit and insatiable curiosity push her to constantly explore new field and she often collaborates with researchers. The series "Tu mourras moins bête" is absolutely brillant.
On Culturethèque you can read the following comic books by female authors: Les reflets changeants, Dans la combi de Thomas Pesquet, Les Crocodiles, Saison des Roses, Forté, Les grands espaces and Isadora.
Some series are so widely known in France, that they do not even need an introduction anymore. However we have put together a quick overview of what you might have missed over the years.
Spirou by Emile Bravo
January 1940. A particularly harsh winter fell on Brussels. While everyone awaits with apprehension the imminent arrival of the war, Fantasio enlisted in the Belgian army. In the Ebén-Émael fortress, he is impatient to fight it out and has no doubt that the French and British armies will crush the German army ... As for Spirou, he is still a bellboy and continues to live as normally as possible. When war broke out, Fantasio sought to serve the country as heroically as possible. Spirou, for his part, tries to understand the complexity of the situation through meetings with deeply human characters and tries to make himself useful by being faithful to his values. This large work (330 pages in 4 volumes) is a real novel combining action, humour, historical truths and philosophical reflections.
All 4 volumes are available to read here
Le chat du rabbin by Joan Sfar
In the early 1930s, the cat of a rabbi from the Algiers Kasbah recounts his life and his dialogues with his master. The cat sees his peaceful life upset the day he suddenly acquires the gift of speech after devouring the parrot of the house. As the rabbi refuses to let him spend more time with his daughter Zlabya (whom the cat loves deeply), both engage in a theological discussion at the end of which the cat gets into the idea of converting to Judaism and making its bar-mitsva.
Comic books because of their immediate visual resonance are often adapted for the big screen. In 2011, an animation film based on the story by Joan Sfar was released. Other examples include: Largo Winch by Jean Van Hamme, Aya de Yopougon by Marguerite Abouet, Valérian et Laureline by Pierre Christin, Le Transperceneige by Jean-Marc Rochette, and Le bleu est une couleur chaude by Julie Maroh.
Listen to a discussion with Joan Sfar and illustrator Quentin Blake that took place at the Institut back in 2012 as part of the South Ken Kids Festival.
Agripine by Claire Brétécher
It presents the existential dilemmas and the futile concerns of a spoiled adolescent girl, absurdly caricaturing the flaws of a Parisian bourgeoisie wedged between existentialism and consumer society. Teens are portrayed as false rebels primarily concerned with appearance and seduction, while adults are often retarded hippies who want to keep their illusion of freedom of mind while leading a narrow life.
"Je passe mon temps à regarder les gens. Leur tronche, leur allure"
Long considered the only woman in a male environment, Claire Bretécher occupies a pioneering position, and an example for the generations of authors who have succeeded her. France Culture pays tribute to a guardian figure, author of a timeless work.
Tintin by Hergé
Tintin, Milou, Le Capitaine Haddock, Le Professeur Tournesol, Dupont and Dupont and many more! If by any chance you have already read all volumes multiple times, we suggest listening to the extraordinary radio adaptation on France Culture – a collaboration with La Comédie Française and l'Orchestre National de France.
Ariol by Marc Boutavant and Emmanuel Guibert
J'aime Lire is small magazine for kids between 7 and 10 years old which was published for the first time in 1977. Still widely loved, Bayard Jeunesse, has nevertheless updated its catalogue with small strips which have all achieved cult status. If you are born in the 90s, you probably remember Tom Tom et Nana (which still gets borrowed at the Quentin Blake Library). However since the early 2000's another series about a blue donkey called Ariol has made its way towards our little hearts.
Other stories by J'aime Lire include: Anatole Latuile, Zélie et compagnie, Emile et Margot, Tralaland and Maudit Manoir.
Overall comic books are a mirror of society and thanks to the quality of the drawings and often funny/satirical dialogues, they subtly convey all kinds of emotions. They might be a Franco/Belgian traditions but their aura spans boundaries and in the UK, you might have heard of Posy Simmonds or Paul Gravett – a journalist and dear friend of the Institut.
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See you later, hopefully on Tuesday 5 May at 6 P.M for our first "French Comics Apéro". All levels of French or English welcome.
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