Women who draw: 10 comics by French speaking artists
Let's dive into a panorama of essential comics and graphic novels by French speaking artists.
The trials of Agrippina by Claire Brétécher
Agrippina, a wonderful prototype of the rebellious teenager, spends her time squabbling with her exasperated parents, determinately ignoring her infuriating brother, discussing the latest couplings with her girlfriends, studiously avoiding ‘being normal’, and falling madly in love with a different boy every two minutes. Quite simply hilarious.
Claire Bretécher (1940 - 2020) was one of the first women to break into France’s male-dominated cartoon industry. Celebrated for her wit and use of satire, she specialised in holding up to scrutiny the affluent urban female in all her angst, melodrama and snobbism. Agrippina is one of France's best known fiction characters and Bretécher definitely carved a way for a new generation of women cartoonists who looked up to her and were inspired by her singular portrayal of gender issues.
Deserter's Masquerade by Chloé Cruchaudet
Paul and Louise love each other and get married, but WWI separates them. Paul, who wants to escape the hell of the trenches, becomes a deserter and finds Louise in Paris. He is condemned to hide in a hotel room. To put an end to his clandestine existence, Paul imagines a solution: to change his identity. Now he'll be known as Suzanne. Between gender confusion and the trauma of war, the couple will arrive at an unusual destiny. Inspired by real facts, 'Deserter's Masquerade' is the story of Louise and her transvestite husband who loved and were torn apart in the Paris of the Roaring Twenties.
Best known for her adaptations of historical testimonies, Chloé Cruchaudet won many prestigious awards, including the Prize of the public at the Angoulème International Comics Festival.
I remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached
Zeina Abirached, author of the award-winning graphic novel 'A Game for Swallows', returns with a powerful collection of wartime memories and takes us into a black and white non-sequential look at the details and memories of her teenage years growing up in Beirut from the sound of cassette tapes to the smell of smoke in the living room.
All of Zeina Abirached's books are based on autobiographic narratives related to her childhood within the Lebanese Civil War.
Lightness by Catherine Meurisse
In the aftermath of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices on January 7, 2015, cartoonist Catherine Meurisse struggles with the trauma of losing her friends and looks for a way to move forward with her life and her art. She soon enters a dissociative state where she loses her memories, especially those associated with aesthetic experiences. This leads her on a quest to seek beauty and lightness in the world around her with the help of guiding lights including Proust, Stendhal, Baudelaire, and two provocative graffiti artists. Throughout the book, Meurisse uses her limber cartooning and dynamic writing to weave a tapestry of raw emotion and philosophical reflection laced with a strain of wry humour.
In addition to publishing gorgeous comic books, Catherine Meurisse is still involved with the press ans she has illustrated editorial pieces for, amongst others, Philosophie Magasine, La Revue Dessinée, Libération, Causette, Télérama and Okapi.
In 2020, she was elected at l'Académie des Beaux Arts.
Seeking Dad 2.0 by Magali le Huche and Gwendoline Raisson
Caroline is a 33-year-old single mom. To help her cope with the difficulties she faces as such in her personal and professional life, she’s a regular at the M.A (mothers anonymous) association, a conversation group for women who are a little overwhelmed by their motherhood. Caroline shares her tragi-comic attempts to find love and companionship, while Philippe, a slightly out-of-place new arrival at M.A., reflects on his status as a ‘dad 2.0’. A funny, intelligent, and moving graphic novel, a touch of chick lit with a feminist twist that comments on one of the big social subjects of our time: the new family model.
Magali le Huche is internationally recognised for her lovely illustrations of kids picture albums (the much loved 'Poppy' and 'Jean Michel' series ). She was the Institut's artist in residence, as part of the South Kensington Kids Festival, back in November 2019 and in early March 2021, she released 'Nowhere Girl' about her school phobia as a kid and her love of the Beatles' music.
The tenderness of stones by Marion Fayolle
“We buried one of dad’s lungs,” announces the narrator of 'The Tenderness of Stones'. The lung is so large it takes three men to carry it—and that is just the beginning. The family looks on as, under the dispassionate orders of anonymous white-clad strangers, their father is disassembled, piece by piece: His nose is removed from his face and tied, temporarily, to his neck; his other lung is pulled out and he is forced to lug it around in a cart; his mouth is pried off and stored away, leaving him mute. Beneath it all is one devastating truth: Soon, he will be gone entirely.
Marion Fayolle is one of the most innovative young artists in contemporary comics, and in this startling, beautifully drawn fable she offers a vision of family illness and grief that is by turns playful and profound, literal and lyrical. She captures the strange swirl of love, resentment, grief, and humor that comes as we watch a loved one transformed before our eyes, and learn to live without them.
Kiki de Montparnasse by Catel Muller
In the bohemian Montparnasse of the 1920s, Kiki managed to escape poverty to become one of the most charismatic figures of the avant garde years between the wars. Partner to Man Ray, whose most legendary photos she inspired, she would be immortalised by Kisling, Foujita, Per Krohg, Calder, Utrillo and Léger. Kiki is the muse of a generation that sought to escape the hangover of the Great War, but she is above all one of the first emancipated women of the 20th century.
Catel Muller known as Catel is one of the most appreciated figures of the graphic novel in France. With José-Louis Bocquet as screenwriter, she has signed several graphic biographies: one devoted to Kiki de Montparnasse, one to Olympe de Gouges, one to Joséphine Baker and more recently one to the Princess of Clèves. They all are bookstore successes, hailed by critics.
Maiden by Florence Dupré Latour
In Florence’s childhood, there is a thing you’re not supposed to talk about. It seems like everyone knows about it… except for her. And she can’t ask any questions—it’s forbidden to speak the word. What happens to children who grow up in prudish isolation, once they hit puberty? Can they ever overcome the shame instilled by a sexless education?
In this autobiographical story, Florence Dupré la Tour unveils her childhood in heart-wrenching inks and watercolors: a story of the heavy weight of tradition and how to resist and escape that fate.
Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim
'Grass' is a powerful anti-war graphic novel, offering up firsthand the life story of a Korean girl named Lee Ok-sun who was forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese Imperial Army during the second World War - a disputed chapter in 20th century Asian history.
Beginning in Lee’s childhood, 'Grass' shows the leadup to World War II from a child’s vulnerable perspective, detailing how one person experienced the Japanese occupation and the widespread suffering it entailed for ordinary Korean folk.
Keum Suk Gendry-Kim was born in South Korea, but has lived and worked in Paris for many years. She had already published some smaller works in 2010 before making her graphic novel debut at Éditions Sarbacane in 2012. Furthermore. Gendry-Kim has translated Korean comics to French for publishers like Vertige Graphic, Cornélius, Atrabile, Sai Comics, Casterman and Kana.
Waves by Carole Maurel and Ingrid Chabbert
After years of difficulty trying to have children, a young couple finally announce their pregnancy, only to have the most joyous day of their lives replaced with one of unexpected heartbreak. Their relationship is put to the test as they forge ahead, working together to rebuild themselves amidst the churning tumult of devastating loss, and ultimately facing the soul-crushing reality that they may never conceive a child of their own. Based on author Ingrid Chabbert’s own experience, coupled with soft, sometimes dreamlike illustrations by Carole Maurel, 'Waves' is a deeply moving story that poignantly captures a woman’s exploration of her pain in order to rediscover hope.
Carole Maurel worked as a graphic designer and animator for TV programs, before she published her first graphic novel 'Les Chroniques Mauves', a collective work about the lesbian community. She has since published several graphic novels, always a characteristic mix of feminine sensibilities and humour.
For more discover our playlist of podcasts about women who draw as well as the latest issue of LIRE Magazine with a special focus about "Ces femmes qui font la bande dessinée".