In recent years comics have been making resurgence in popularity in the United States, however in France they have enjoyed a huge popularity for years.
In France comics are known as Bande Dessinee, which is seen as a true art form, the “nuivieme art.”With such a wide range of comics available, the genre offers PCC students of the French language and culture an opportunity to improve their French.
Tackling a French graphic novel in comparison to reading a Jean-Paul Sartre novel is very accessible for beginners with limited knowledge of the language, while at the same time offering a culturally enriching experience.
In France, the importance of comics is evident from the packaging, with a majority of comics published in large format hardcover albums.
These albums can be purchased at any large bookstore in France, with many of the larger store shops devoting a major section to comics such as the Virgin Mega Store in Paris devoting a whole floor to comics.
Comics can be purchased at the many comic book festivals that occur annually throughout France, which gives fans of comics the opportunity to view comic art, purchase comics, and get personalized illustrations on their albums.
Whether legitimate or not, comics and their surrounding culture have had a negative image in popular culture in the U.S.
In Scott McCloud’s comic about comics, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, he recognizes the lack of respect for comics, which have been criticized for being “crude poorly-drown, semiliterate cheap disposable kiddie fare.”
Having lived in both France and the U.S., it is clear that comics are seen in a more positive light in France.
This is due largely to the high quality of comics available in France, which blend literature and illustration.
The use of illustrative elements in French literature is not uncommon with such classics as the children’s book Le Petite Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry. Le Petit Prince can be viewed as a children’s story, however, the book is very philosophical in nature.
This is very similar to how subjects are treated in French comics where the Superhero formula is by no means a limitation for the art form.
French comics cover a large range of genres like history, adventure, mystery, comedy, drama, sci-fi, and surreal and progressive works, which mirror cinema more than your average cookie-cutter superhero fare found stateside.
The French do not only appreciate comics from their French speaking world but also appreciate works from around the world, such as the classic American graphic novel Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, which recounts the experience of Jews during the Holocaust.
Also noteworthy is the recent award winning series Blacksad by Spanish artists Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido, which tackles racism in a fictional land mirroring America.
Also very popular is Japanese Magna, rivaling sales of French comics. It must be noted that many of the graphic novels available in France are available in the U.S.
It is true one can find historical themed graphic novels in the U.S. such as Maus, however what is different is how people in France view comics as legitimate art, continually putting out creative and quality albums that are appreciated by children and adults alike.
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