What French-language comics would you recommend?
May 22, 2009 1:53 AM   Subscribe

What French-language comics would you recommend?

I will be in Paris shortly and hope to spend some time in the comic shops there. I am aware of the bande dessinée phenomenon but don't know much about specific titles or authors. I can read French relatively well, and would like to pick up something different while I'm away.

In English, I like most "mainstream" graphic novels: Sandman, Watchmen, Y, Blade of the Immortal. If I had a preference for a particular genre, I suppose it would be science-fiction. I'm looking for tips on a few particularly good, current titles to check out. (I'm not looking for a guide to the classics: I just want to sample the best of now rather than get an education!) Suggestions for good, friendly shops in Paris would be a bonus.

So, what's particularly exciting in the BD world at the moment?
posted by Grinder to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I suggest you head to Gare du Nord and take the Thalys train to Brussels (80 minutes) : it is "l'année de la bande dessinée" here, there are comics murals, a comics museum and a killer store. French-speaking comics heaven !
posted by Baud at 2:04 AM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Tome & Janry's Spirou:

Spirou à New-York (Spirou in New York, 1987)
La frousse aux trousses (Fear on the tail, 1988). Part one of two.
La vallée des bannis (Valley of the Banished, 1989). Part two of two.

Not exactly "at the moment", but great albums. High on comedy.
posted by SurrenderMonkey at 4:25 AM on May 22, 2009

Anything in any language by Moebius
posted by adamvasco at 4:38 AM on May 22, 2009

Would it be laughably obvious for me to suggest Tintin?
posted by Cygnet at 5:23 AM on May 22, 2009

Seconding baud's suggestion about the Comic Museum in Brussels. That is a very cool Museum, a most see for anyone seriosuly into comics.

Also, I recommend reading both Tintin and Asterix. I realize that they are not at all like your preferences that you listed above - but those too titles are so famous. Reading those titles is like reading the classic literature of the comic genre.

I honestly do not think anyone can claim to be well versed in world comics without having some knowledge of those 2 titles. It would be like saying, I like American comics, but I do not know who Superman is.

Seriously, if you have not read Tintin and Asterix - they are most reads. They are great comics too.
posted by Flood at 5:31 AM on May 22, 2009

Here are my non-expert suggestions:

1) Phillipe Druillet - His space opera adaptation of Flaubert's Sallambo is gorgeous.

2) Moebius - I'm not familiar with a lot of his work, but would suggest the Incal series, with Alejandro Jodorowsky

3) Enki Bilal - The Nicopol trilogy in particular is a classic.
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:38 AM on May 22, 2009

I too recommend Moebius; his art is fantastic in every sense of the word.

However, I can't really say I'd recommend Tintin; if it's not gauche to say so, his creator, Hergé, was, as they say, a scoundrel. A very good recent article that appeared in The Economist discusses this:
Hergé’s reputation is also marked by charges of anti-Semitism. He received many complaints about one of his villains, the hook-nosed New York financier, “Mr Blumenstein”. It does not help that this caricature appeared in “The Shooting Star”, an adventure written in 1941 while living in Brussels under Nazi occupation.

…Hergé spent the war working for Le Soir, a Belgian newspaper seized by the German occupiers and turned into a propaganda organ. This is usually explained by Hergé’s “naivety”, as an author of children’s comics (a defence also used for P.G. Wodehouse).

Alas, none of those arguments survive a reading of a biography of Hergé by Philippe Goddin, published in 2007. Mr Goddin’s honesty is commendable: his is an official biography, based on Hergé’s large collection of private papers.

Mr Goddin returns to “The Shooting Star”, and its initial newspaper serialisation in Le Soir. This included a strip about the panic unleashed when it seemed a giant meteorite would hit the earth. In one frame, he writes, Hergé drew two Jews rejoicing that if the world ended, they would not have to pay back their creditors. At that same moment in Belgium, Mr Goddin notes, Jews were being ordered to move to the country’s largest cities and remove their children from ordinary schools. They were also banned from owning radios, and were subject to a curfew. In the news pages of Le Soir, these measures were described as indispensable preparations for an orderly “emigration” of Jews. A year later, Hergé deleted the drawing of the Jews of his own accord, when the serialised “The Shooting Star” became an album.

Mr Goddin demolishes the excuse of naivety, thanks to papers found in Hergé’s files. As early as October 1940, he records, Hergé received an anonymous letter accusing him of luring Belgian children to read German propaganda, by publishing Tintin in Le Soir’s youth supplement. A few months later, Hergé had a bitter argument with an old friend, Philippe Gérard. In a letter, Gérard demanded Hergé either endorse the “odious propaganda” of Le Soir or make his disagreement with the German occupation known. Saying it was just “a job” would not do, his friend concluded.

By way of reply, Hergé offered a defence of neutrality. “I am neither pro-German, nor pro-British,” he wrote back. “As I can do absolutely nothing to hasten the victory of either England or Germany, I watch, I observe and I chew things over. Calmly and without passion.” His aim was to remain an “honest man”, Hergé wrote, which did not mean shouting “Heil Hitler” or volunteering for the Waffen SS. Some said German occupiers were pillaging Belgium. An honest man had to acknowledge this was not true.

There is a link between Hergé, this disappointing man, and his creation Tintin, who fights against despots so bravely. It lies in the rationalisation of impotence: a very European preoccupation.
posted by koeselitz at 6:06 AM on May 22, 2009

Naciré et les machines. Also, this site has a Top 5 new albums by members of the community and on the right side, down below there's the coups de coeur de la redaction. There's also a list of indispensables bd (all time) in which the best positioned Sci-Fi is Les Mondes d'Aldébaran.

I personally find the FNAC - despite being a chain - at les halles very good for BD. Many people would swear by Album, though.

Blake and Mortimer rocks but I'm not sure it's what you're after.

(and can we not veer into the Hergé-hate thing which will lead into the obvious discussion if the character of the author - or his political non-opinions - should interfere with our appreciation of his work or even make us dismiss Tintin as not being seminal to the appreciation of european bd which it obviously is)
posted by lucia__is__dada at 6:45 AM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Anything by Dupuy and Berberian.
posted by Shoggoth at 6:50 AM on May 22, 2009

Thanks for all the suggestions so far. I have read Tintin in English and would prefer not to get into a discussion of the author. I am vaguely familiar with Moebius. What I really want are suggestions for a few titles or authors that are representative of the best of what's out there now. This is a holiday, not a study trip, and I just want to pick up a few books to see if I enjoy reading comics in French.
posted by Grinder at 6:51 AM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Please, koeselitz, you cannot dismiss art on these premises, or on ANY premises. Maybe I should unread all the great Knut Hamsun novels? This is not constructive.
posted by SurrenderMonkey at 6:56 AM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Second anything by Giraud/Moebius, Charlier, Enki Bilal.

Here's a good, but critical list
posted by arzakh at 7:00 AM on May 22, 2009

Some things I have read at my local library which I liked:
Le Tueur
Black Op

Searching through recommendations via Amazon.fr you can find tons of other suggestions.

Be aware that BDs are rather expensive, which is why I get them from the library. However if you are willing to buy them then look for sales on comilations or lots.
posted by Vindaloo at 7:07 AM on May 22, 2009

Joann Sfar, Le Chat du rabbin.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:37 AM on May 22, 2009

Astérix is really funny but you may miss many of the puns. André Franquin on the other hand... (make sure you check his Idées Noires).
posted by Baud at 7:40 AM on May 22, 2009

Thanks again. I should also say that I'm more interested in "graphic novels" than "comics" - serious rather than funny stuff.
posted by Grinder at 8:01 AM on May 22, 2009

David B. is an incredible comic artist & writer - he was one of the founders of L'Association, one of the more innovative & serious independent comic publisher in France - you might be familiar with his autobiographical Epileptic, which was translated into English

I would also look for the work of Joann Sfar and Guy Delisle
posted by jammy at 8:37 AM on May 22, 2009

brianogilvie said: Joann Sfar, Le Chat du rabbin.

yes, yes, yes - fantastic book
posted by jammy at 8:41 AM on May 22, 2009

Many apologies for that utterly unnecessary derail above; I should know better than to comment before I've woken up fully.

The man who might be called 'the Belgian Alan Moore' is a novelist by the name of Jean Van Hamme. He's written some of the greatest (in my opinion) bande dessinnée graphic novels out there. The most popular are probably Thorgal, XIII, and Largo Winch, although Story Without Hero is also very good. His work is usually pretty action-oriented, and sometimes tends to be similar to Frank Miller (although, of course, better written—but then I was never a Frank Miller fan.) Largo Winch, for example, is a sort of business-intrigue story about a Polish orphan who becomes a wealthy executive and whose exploits to save his company involve various adventures. I've only read one or two of this series, but I can recommend it; it's well-done. XIII is a spin on the Ludlum novel The Bourne Identity which is a bit more intelligent than the films. I like Thorgal the best of his works: it's about an outsider who crashes to Earth in a spaceship as an infant (sound familiar?) and is raised among Vikings, who often seem to see him as “sensitive” and therefore weak even as he becomes a great hero among them. It's inventive and riveting stuff, Norse gods and all that, and (I think) holds its own against any of the English-language comics you mentioned like Y and Blade Of The Immortal.
posted by koeselitz at 8:43 AM on May 22, 2009

You could check out some Angoulême winners.
posted by martinrebas at 8:56 AM on May 22, 2009

koeselitz, that looks like the sort of thing that I'm looking for. Thanks.
posted by Grinder at 9:13 AM on May 22, 2009

For some really whacked out SF you could chekc out the Alejandro Jodorowsky stuff... Metabarons and the Incal being the most famous (both are available in English though... I'm guessing you want to hunt around for something a little more obscure?)

I;d seriously consider that trip to Brussels - the comics museum there is great.
posted by Artw at 10:36 AM on May 22, 2009


I use to work with a guy who collected François Schuiten's Les Cités Obscures; the art was incredible (think Winsor McKay and Otto Wagner) ...unfortunately, neither of us read French, so we could only guess as to the stories. Not current, but worth checking out.

Wiki also has a list of recommended titles in the Franco-Belgium world...
posted by Bron at 10:52 AM on May 22, 2009

...unfortunately, neither of us read French, so we could only guess as to the stories.

I, um, frequently enjoy French comics more when I am guessing what they are about than when I get translations.
posted by Artw at 10:59 AM on May 22, 2009

Yep, the Schuiten stuff was visually compelling enough to hold your attention all by itself. One of the books was designed/laid out in kind of mirror image of itself...the first half of the book, the pages and panels proceed like any regular comic, but then starting in the center, the panels mirror the action and layout of the first half, continuing to the end. Like a spiral going in, then reversing back out. Kind of hard to explain, but a neat twist on the graphic conventions of comics (much like some of the tricks McKay used in Little Nemo...).
posted by Bron at 12:13 PM on May 22, 2009

For recommendations, check out The Venerable Bédé, a BD review blog by Mefite Shepherd. He doesn't post often enough, but the most recently reviewed book, Hauteville House, sounds interesting and possibly up your alley.
posted by librarina at 8:24 PM on May 23, 2009

oh, there are comics weeklies/Monthlies you may find in the kiosque à journaux. First names springing to mind are Spirou and Fluide Glacial. I'm sure there are other ones. For a more "indie" vibe : Lewis Trondheim.
posted by Baud at 12:24 AM on May 24, 2009

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