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France & French Collections at the Library of Congress

Bande Dessinée: Comics & Graphic Novels

Victor Alfred Lundy, artist. Notre Dame, Paris. 1923. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Bandes Dessinées (popularly known as les BDs, "les bay day") are French comics. Comics in France hold a more venerated position than they do in the United States. Also called the "Ninth Art", they may not be on par with the Classics such as Honoré de Balzac or Victor Hugo, but Comic artists are slowly being elevated to the ranks of high art. Cultural institutions like the Louvre have had exhibits of comic artists and unlike America, where you need to find a specialty store for comics, if you go into a French bookstore you will find a large section devoted to BDs and it will be full of eager readers. They will likely have American sections as well as a Japanese Manga section. They will also have a section for "les Auteurs" who are especially revered after a career in their artform, and are therefore singled out by name. Thousands of albums (France has a standardized hardcopy format for their BDs) are produced each year and the second largest comics festival in Europe is held in Angoulême, France (Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d'Angoulême External). They also have a museum devoted to comics called La Cité internationale de la bande dessinée et de l'image External located in the same area as the festival—the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine.

Graphic novels (roman graphique) and comics (bande dessinée) are often blurred in the popular imagination. The terms graphic artist, comic artist and graphic novelist are used interchangeably by many. In general graphic novels are longer than bande dessinée and they usually have a narrative that runs through the entirety of the publication rather than BDs, which often have shorter narratives that continue on without clear beginnings and ends. Because the story doesn't have to be broken up into serials like a comic book, graphic novels can sometimes cover more complex content and for that reason they tend to have a reputation as more serious and well, graphic. But the truth is, content can be quite profound in BDs as well, it is just a question of presentation. Although it is said that graphic novels predate comics, they have both had cycles of popularity in different countries over the centuries. Graphic novels saw a resurgence in popularity with authors such as Neil Gaiman and currently they both thrive in tandem. Many famous cartoonists are also film directors including Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), Riad Satouff (The Arab of the Future), Joann Sfar (The Cat of the Rabbi). The influence of comics on film is undisputed and can even be seen in popular American films. Many critics see similarities from the popular comic series Valérian and the City of a Thousand Planets (originally a graphic novel by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claud Mézières and later a film adaptation) and George Lucas' epic saga, Star Wars.

It is important to note that the comic industries in Belgium and France are often fused together as "la bande dessinée Franco-Belge" or Franco-Belgian. Since the 1940s Francophone Belgium led the way in the comics industry. Take familiar examples such as the Smurfs or, "les Schtroumpfs" and Tintin both of which have Belgian authors. As voices emerge from the Francophone world and a more diverse array of authors and artists are published, the comics scene has added new perspectives next to the classics of Lucky Luke and Asterix. Riad Sattouf for example, is a cartoonist with a Syrian background who is also a film director and author of a graphic memoir that has been translated into a dozen languages so far. There has been an outcry in the comics industry for greater representation of women, the LGBTQIA+ community, and people of color, and progress is slowly being made to increase the visibility of these artists. This increased awareness, along with a genuine interest in the work of female comic artists, and artists of color, indicates that fresh material will continue to be infused into the booming genre. The youth of France in particular seem eager to see a diversity of viewpoints. Some of the classic BDs are available from Gallica. This bibliography will provide a selection of popular and new authors as well as a few general resources about the evolving role of bande dessinée in France and the Francophone world. Titles in French as well as English translation are included and a catalog search under the author's name will bring up publications in both languages that are held in the Library.

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.