Can you recommend some non-violent French-language comics that would appeal to someone who has never read comics before?
February 15, 2010 10:14 PM   Subscribe

My aunt is a librarian for a bilingual French-English primary school, and has mentioned that she is resistant to buying comics/graphic novels for the library because she thinks they are non-literary. I really enjoy reading comics, and would like to suggest something she could read that would prove that comics can be just as satisfying as novels. They don't necessarily have to be child-suitable, in fact it would be ideal to find a literary adult (not 'adult') comic that she would enjoy.

She is passionate about French and can read it fluently, so I thought a French comic might tempt her. She is in her early 60s, well-read and fairly open-minded, but I know she will be put off by any gratuitous violence, or anything fantasy/sci-fi. I think something based in the real world would be preferable, something like Fun House, Persepolis or Gemma Bovary.
posted by Piroska to Society & Culture (49 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Maus (there is a French translation).
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:17 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, there are so many but...Blueberry!
posted by hapax_legomenon at 10:20 PM on February 15, 2010

And sorry - in your text, you say no "gratuitous violence," but I realize in your title now that you say more simply "non-violent." Maus, as it deals with the Holocaust, certainly contains violence, but the portrayal is not gratuitous. Still, if you want something without any violence, Maus would not be a good idea.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:20 PM on February 15, 2010

Good lord, your aunt is a librarian at an English-French library, and has not considered adding Asterix and Obelix to the collection? You can get in French and English! Same as Tintin!

I think something based in the real world would be preferable

Does she not realize she's the librarian at a primary school, and kids that age like fantasy and make believe? And the comics are an easy, accessible way to generate interest in reading in a second/foreign language?

Reading manga is how I learned basic Japanese, and I also try to pick up Japanese-language versions of Doraemon for my son.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:25 PM on February 15, 2010 [8 favorites]

I came in here to say Maus (which won a bloody Pulitzer, how much more respectable can you get?) but having been scooped, I'll add a few more:

Chester Brown's Riel
Daniel Clowes David Boring
Kyle Baker's Why I Hate Saturn
Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth
Watchmen made Time's Top 100 list of novels, I notice, and some will recommend it, but since a lot of its subtext is meta-commentary about comic books themselves, it might not be a great entry point for a new reader.

From Hell, a painstakingly-researched retelling of the Jack the Ripper story, is a better bet.
posted by rokusan at 10:26 PM on February 15, 2010

And, I forgot to say it, but all of those are available in French translation. I can't speak to the quality, though.
posted by rokusan at 10:28 PM on February 15, 2010

Guy Delisle's three books on living for stints in odd places (here are the English versions and his own site for the original French versions); Michel Rabagliati's autobiographical Paul books which have won awards (he's also published initially in French); if your aunt wants serious educational content, Larry Gonick's Cartoon History series is wonderful. Drawn & Quarterly publishes much other great stuff, check their website. I'm particularly partial to Yoshihiro Tatsumi's works that they've been translating and publishing.
posted by zadcat at 10:34 PM on February 15, 2010

Considering this is a French language primary school, Tintin should be pretty much required reading. It's at the right level for primary school kids and not too violent. Tintin is part of francophone culture.

When I was growing up France, some of the more "serious" comic books I was also into were Blake et Mortimer and Yoko Tsuno.

In fact, now that I think of it, I pretty much learned how to read from Asterix and Lucky Luke.
posted by Loudmax at 10:35 PM on February 15, 2010

I highly recommend all of Guy Delisle's travel memoirs: Pyongyang (his best, I think), Shenzhen, Burma Chronicles.

Delisle is French-Canadian, so these are all conveniently available in the original French.

on preview: zadcat beat me to the punch!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:36 PM on February 15, 2010

Watchmen is not a suitable introduction to graphic novels for neither conservative 60-year-old librarians, nor children
posted by KokuRyu at 10:37 PM on February 15, 2010

But Riel is awesome.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:38 PM on February 15, 2010

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown was excellent but I just checked OCLC for a French language edition and unfortunately there is not one.
posted by mlis at 10:38 PM on February 15, 2010

Along with stuff recommended above, Will Eisner's A Contract with God trilogy is a good place to start. A Contract With God was the very first graphic novel ever published, and Eisner deliberately wrote it as a single work, not as a collection of separate issues (it's usually bound with two other graphic novels he wrote dealing with similar themes). I'd also recommend Joe Sacco's Palestine and The Fixer (for that matter, all his Sarajevo stuff). Blankets by Craig Thompson is a beautiful piece of work about First Love and a particular favorite of mine.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:46 PM on February 15, 2010

Not fiction and not a novel, but I learned more from A Cartoon History of the Universe and its sequel than I did from four years of history class in high school.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:50 PM on February 15, 2010

"Maus" is definitely the best starting place. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

The second volume, "And here my troubles began", is just as good. It finishes the story. (Once I finished reading it, I understood why Spiegelman used that for the title. It was something his father said in describing an event that took place after he'd been freed from Auschwitz.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:53 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Marjane Satrapi's books (Persepolis, a memoir, is her most acclaimed) were originally published in French, as she lives in France.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:46 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, Epileptic ("L'Ascension du Haut Mal" en français) by David B. is another great French-language book.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:48 PM on February 15, 2010

Set in a different kind of Japan, where an elite troupe of special agents are simultaneously tv stars, the Kabuki series is visually breathtaking. The artwork is incredibly beautiful. You can read it again and again just to pore over the pictures.

If you prefer realism, there is Mr. Punch : The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy by Neil Gaiman, artwork by Dave McKean. Boyhood memories of a summer on a rainy British beach, a scary Punch & Judy show and a terrible tragedy. The artwork is, again, quite fascinating but not everyone's style.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:00 AM on February 16, 2010

Tezuka Osamu's Buddha. Already translated in English and it is used for introduction to Buddhism in several North American universities.
posted by sanskrtam at 12:00 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Marzi is about the fall of communism as seen through the eyes of a Polish girl.
posted by rom1 at 12:00 AM on February 16, 2010

The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfar is set in the 1930s Algeria. "The preeminent work by one of France's most celebrated young comic artists, The Rabbi's Cat tells the wholly unique story of a rabbi, his daughter, and their talking cat - a philosopher brimming with scathing humor and surprising tenderness."

It's also great for learning about Judaica. And crack anyone up who has ever had a cat. It is adorable and deep and interesting.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:05 AM on February 16, 2010

Definitely definitely definitely definitely Tintin.
posted by Mael Oui at 12:12 AM on February 16, 2010

I came in to say Asterix and Obelix, and Tintin. So, nthing both of them.
posted by jacalata at 12:18 AM on February 16, 2010

I'm reading loads of French comics right now. As well as the already mentioned Pyongyang and Persepolis (both great), you might want to consider ...

Les Quatre Fleuves, which is a roman policier in BD form written by Fred Vargas (who writes elaborate high-brow detective novels) and illustrated by Edmond Baudoin. The story is brilliantly paced and inventive, and features Detective Adamsberg who might be familiar if your aunt has read any other Vargas. The images are very atmospheric really adding to the depth of the characters - Adamsberg in particular is just how I imagined him.

On the autobiographical stories front, I actually preferred Kaboul Disco to Pyongyang; it's about the author, who was employed in Afghanistan to produce cartoons illustrating the election process (because of the low literacy rates in Afghanistan, they used cartoons to get some of the ideas across). The tales of a group of french designers and illustrators trying to live a normal life in Kabul, and the expat existence, and their relations with their Afghani colleagues, are fascinating. Some of the actual info-cartoons are included as "extras" at the end of each volume - this might be of particular interest to a librarian, given the way that librarians tend to be rather keen on the idea of literacy! It's two volume; here's an link to volume 2, but volume 1 can be read on its own no problem.
posted by handee at 12:21 AM on February 16, 2010

Bone, by Jeff Smith. It's full of humour and fancy, tells of a love story and contains dragons! What's not to like?
posted by MelanieL at 1:02 AM on February 16, 2010

The Tale of One Bad Rat by Brian Talbot.
posted by rodgerd at 1:42 AM on February 16, 2010

The BD (bande dessinée) is so important in French literary life. My local library has an entire floor -- I can take a picture if you think it will help. Check out the recent BD festival, held annually in Angoulême. It sounds a little like it's a high/low (popular) question, but in France that doesn't exist for BDs.
posted by bwonder2 at 2:28 AM on February 16, 2010

Corto Maltese might be a good addition, definitely belongs in any adult comics library.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:33 AM on February 16, 2010

Seconding the Tintin and Asterix up there. Must add anything drawn by Franquin for example Spirou, and for some fresh new comics a la graphic novel (no sex) Abdallahi, Tome 1 : Dans l'intimité des terres & Abdallahi, Tome 2 : Traversée du désert
posted by dabitch at 3:21 AM on February 16, 2010

Edit! It was La Ligne de fuite that won several awards for both the writing and art. I misremembered when I pointed to the Abdallahi set.
posted by dabitch at 3:28 AM on February 16, 2010

I came in to recommend Chester Brown's Louis Riel biography, which I see that rokusan has already mentioned. It is fantastic.
posted by onshi at 5:07 AM on February 16, 2010

That thread provides an interesting list of recent authors. I'd like to point out the work of Sempé, which could appeal to your aunt. Jacques Tardi might also be of interest.
posted by nicolin at 5:36 AM on February 16, 2010

Not in French, but Mother, Come Home is well-told and beautifully illustrated, and comes off as quite literary. Alongside Jimmy Corrigan I think it's one of the best and most approachable representations of what's possible in the form.
posted by penduluum at 6:06 AM on February 16, 2010

She must, must, must look at the excellent four-volume Alim le Tanneur. The story is fantastic, the illustrations excellent, the world created interesting, and the social concepts could be good ones for children.

It's more social/epic/family, focusing on the relationship of an "outcaste" father and daughter. I wouldn't necessarily give it to young children (it has some disturbing death/war/totalitarian state/religious excesses), but to teenagers, definitely. It's not devoid of violence, but there's only a few violent bits and they are definitely not central.

I'm not sure if the fourth volume is the final volume; still figuring out how to acquire it here in North Carolina.

Anyone who likes BD should probably look at it, too.

I made a (probably bad) translation of the first book that I'd send out, but it won't make any sense without the book accompanying it.
posted by amtho at 6:31 AM on February 16, 2010

I'm not recommending a comic book; I'm recommending this article by Ujiie and Krashen, which suggests that students who read comics read more and enjoy reading more than those who don't.
I think Krashen's book "The Power of Reading" goes into more detail on the use of comics in 2nd language classrooms, but it doesn't seem to be available online.
posted by Jeanne at 6:45 AM on February 16, 2010

Seconding Bone and suggesting an English graphic novel for girly-girls, the Babymouse series. They're pink! And the main character is a slightly nerdy, often clumsy little mouse with crooked whiskers! Great for the under-12 set.
posted by cooker girl at 6:50 AM on February 16, 2010

Amtho - I agree that Alim le Tanneur is a great BD, with an interesting storyline and fantastic illustrations (indeed, you may even have recommended it to me in a previous askme). It's all fairly violent though (heads chopped off, villages pillaged) so it's not primary age unless you really want to give them nightmares. The fourth volume is not the last - I've just finished it and it looks like the story will continue.
posted by handee at 6:54 AM on February 16, 2010

Oops, I missed that it was for primary school. My bad.

At least, if the aunt were to read it, maybe it would convince her that BD could potentially be "literature".

Still, probably not a great choice for little ones. Thanks, handee.
posted by amtho at 7:10 AM on February 16, 2010

I remember reading a Louis Riel biography in graphic novel format in french about ten years ago. I don't think it was the one linked to above, but it was awesome.
Tintin and Astérix et Obélix are awesome. We also read Boule et Bill and Spirou.
posted by OLechat at 7:11 AM on February 16, 2010

Check out the First Second catalog -- to me, you can't go wrong with any of them (I think they need to sell subscription plans). They kind of started out as "for smart middle schoolers" but have expanded to more grown-up interests. Still, while there are some war stories and such, not much sex/gratitious violence, etc.

Not all may interest your aunt, but I think they may put you on the right track.

Not French, but Jessica Abel's La Perdida would probably also be a good choice.
posted by darksong at 8:08 AM on February 16, 2010

Epileptic, by David B. He's a French cartoonist, and it's a wonderful story.
posted by booknerd at 8:59 AM on February 16, 2010

The French language edition of Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography is available here.
posted by mlis at 9:18 AM on February 16, 2010

I'm around the same age as your aunt and went to French schools even thought my parents are both American. My parents were totally against American comic books but somehow accepted the French ones. I wonder if there are French versions of classic comics, comic versions of classic French novels.
posted by mareli at 9:51 AM on February 16, 2010

Dupuy and Berberian are some of the most successful French comic authors of modern times. This is a link to an English language version of a compilation from one of their most famous series, you can check out the preview for a sample. Maybe a little light and sexy for what you're looking for. Very popular in France but strangely little-known in the U.S. Here is their official website.
posted by nanojath at 10:17 AM on February 16, 2010

The Rabbi's Cat, by Joann Sfar. It's a story about a scraggly, irreverent cat and his relationship with an Algerian rabbi in the 1930s, and also the broader story of intersecting Jewish, Arab, and French culture in Algeria during that period. It's fantastic.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 1:40 PM on February 16, 2010

This is a particular comic that I consult periodically, usually after I've talked to a parental figure who seems unclear on how awesome graphic novels can be for kids.

I mean, after Hugo Cabret won the Caldecott, after Shaun Tan put out the Arrival, and after American Born Chinese and the Eternal Smile, I just almost can't imagine a responsible children's librarian.

A librarian probably understands that all graphic novels mustn't be suited to her tastes, so even though she works in a bilingual school and loves French and you're encouraging her to get comics for the school, would it really hurt to try her on Fun Home or Gemma Bovary first? It sounds like English might actually be her first language?
posted by redsparkler at 1:48 PM on February 16, 2010

Achille Talon's verbose (and funny) dialogues will go a long way in expanding a kid's vocabulary. Loved it when I was a kid.
posted by bluefrog at 4:33 PM on February 16, 2010

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the suggestions guys! I'm sure there will be something that will appeal to her tastes. Mostly I just want to get her to understand that graphic novels/comics aren't just for people who have trouble reading 'real' books, that they can be very challenging and tell powerful stories. Got to break through that literary snobbishness!
posted by Piroska at 5:37 PM on February 17, 2010

Joseph Ghosn, Literary Critic for Les Inrockuptibles, has just written a book about graphic novels. He was featured recently on French Public Radio, and he gave several recommendations. He also has a blog devoted to Comics and graphic novels, which comments works from all over the world, but is also a window on French contemporary graphic novels.
posted by nicolin at 3:33 AM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

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