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French & Reading: A Student's Guide to Francophone Literature & Language Learning

Bande Dessinée: Comics & Graphic Novels

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

It is important to note that comics (popularly known as les BDs, "lay bay day") and 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. For example, take familiar Belgian titles such as Tintin (created in 1929 by George Remi, known as Hergé) or The Smurfs ("Les Schtroumpfs", created in 1958 by Pierre Culliford, known as Peyo) as proof. Comics in France and Belgium hold a more venerated position than they do in the United States. Also called the "Ninth Art" (Le Neuvième Art or 9ème 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. In fact, in February of 2022 Belgium released a new Belgian passport that honors comic artists, Hergé and Peyo, as well as others such as Morris (Maurice De Bevere). They carefully avoided the more controversial comic titles such as Tintin in the Congo, which reinforces racist stereotypes. In France, 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 or Belgian 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 (there is a standardized hardcopy format for most 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. Belgium also has a museum devoted to the "Neuvième Art", Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée—Musée Bruxelles External.

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 (English) 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). Recent controversies have found the French questioning the limits of what constitutes freedom of expression. French cartoonist Bastien Vivès (Petit Paul) has come under increased scrutiny as the public voices concern and disgust over his drawings that critics say normalize or even endorse both incest and pedophilia. The influence of comics on film is undisputed and can even be seen in popular American films. Many fans 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.

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 Bécassine (created in 1905 by Émile-Joseph-Porphyre Pinchon and Jacqueline Rivière), Lucky Luke (created in 1946 by Morris), and Astérix (created in 1959 by René Goscinny,). 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. Many BDs tackle serious subjects much like the graphic novel. For example, Algues vertes (written and illustrated by Inès Léraud and Pierre van Hove) brings attention to the serious environmental damage on Breton's coastline from pollution. Cher pays de notre enfance (written by Étienne Davodeau and Benoît Collombat) bring light to the dark sides of politics during the Fifth Republic. While not detracting from the important role of independent sellers and smaller art-house production, three quarters of the market is dominated by five major publishing houses. As stated in Comics in French, these major publishers are: Groupe Média Participations (which includes Dargaud and Dupuis as well as Lombard, Lucky Comics, Blake et Mortimer and Kana); Groupe Glénat (which includes Vents d'Ouest); Delcourt (which includes Tonkam); Groupe Flammarion (which includes Casterman, Sakka, Jungle, Fluide Glacial and J'ai Lu) and Groupe MC Productions (which includes Soleil). As to the smaller independent publishers such as Frémok, Cornélius, Ego Comme X or Les Requins Marteaux, they share the remaining quarter of BD sales. (p. 224) Some of the classic BDs are digitized on Gallica. External. 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.

Classic & Contemporary Graphic Novels

General Resources on BDs & Graphic Novels