Asterix and Beyond!
January 4, 2011 10:24 AM   Subscribe

What's the French Comics Canon? What are the books it's assumed everyone has read if you read French comics? I've gone through this list, but doesn't really tell you which are held in esteem or are big touchstones/turning points. My reading french is at or near elementary level - short sentences are fine, huge philosophical paragraphs less so.
posted by The Whelk to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
well, as your link says at the top- have you tried Asterix and Tin Tin? Neither book moves me all that much as an (new) adult comics fan (I mean, they were for kids), but they are widely considered to be starting points in your canon.
posted by tremspeed at 10:34 AM on January 4, 2011

Jodorowksy/Moebius' Incal stuff from the 1980s has always been referenced as French canon. I read it in translation and don't remember too many text-dumps, although there were a few.
posted by griphus at 10:35 AM on January 4, 2011

(Trivia: Incal came out of the work Moebius and Jodorowsky (and H.R. Giger) did for Jodorowsky's aborted attempt at a Dune film. Jodorowsky was too weird, you see, and the studio got David Lynch instead. Incal was also ripped by Luc Besson to create The Fifth Element, but that was never verified.)
posted by griphus at 10:38 AM on January 4, 2011

Incal was also ripped by Luc Besson to create The Fifth Element, but that was never verified.

Jean Giraud (Moebius) actually worked on Fifth Element directly - no ripping involved.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:53 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

when i was learning french, asterix was one of my favorite pieces of media to "study" with. certainly made for kids, but i think there is/should be a sort of child-like fun to becoming fluent in your non-native tongue.
posted by nadawi at 11:08 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

[In a global setting it may sound picky, but many french-language comics (including Tintin - which actually was issued in French and Flemish) are Belgian.]

1) You can't do without Gaston Lagaffe, Spirou et Fantasio and the Marsupilami, by André Franquin, in my opinion.
2) The text writer of the Asterix series, René Goscinny, was also the co-creator of Iznogoud, together with Jean Tabary. Worth looking into.

In terms of comic dégustation, my five cents about Asterix:
Look at the list of titles halfway down the wikipedia article about Asterix, and the distribution between Goscinny-Uderzo productions and those albums Uderzo produced alone after Goscinny's death in 1977. In my view, the typical Asterix vibe was already getting lost in the last partly co-produced album No. 24. Asterix in Belgium (1979). Uderzo's no doubt valiant efforts to carry on alone notwithstanding, Goscinny was just so much the better storyteller...
I personally consider the albums up and including no. 20 best. Two caveats:
- Throughout no. 1, Asterix the Gaul, the story and the drawings are still developing, becoming more sure-footed in the second half.
- During no. 3, Asterix and the Goths, they had some sort of co-worker problem which made that some picture details are left not colored at all, and that the visual standard is very uneven; the story as such is fine. No. 4, Asterix the Gladiator, has no such problems and remains one of my favorites.

...and Tintin: the Wikipedia section about the background of the stories and their controversial character is a must-read. Some of the topics are - out of their historical context (or otherwise) - not acceptable for today's readers. I consider nos. 10. The Shooting Star (1941; 1942) through no. 15. Land of Black Gold (1948–1950; 1972).
Of the later albums, no. 22. Flight 714 (1968) is especially unexciting (no, just plain horrible), along with the comic-book version of Tintin and the Lake of Sharks.
Of a few of the earlier Tintin albums, such as The Cigars of the Pharao and The Black Island, the now available versions were re-drawn at a later date, and of some of the ones that keep being issued with their original drawings (such as The Shooting Star), various text versions seem to exist (at least in the Flemish issues).

Have fun.
posted by Namlit at 11:49 AM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Goodness! I forgot Lucky Luke! Nothing works without Lucky Luke, the cowboy who shoots faster than his shadow.
posted by Namlit at 11:52 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also: I consider nos. 10. The Shooting Star (1941; 1942) through no. 15. Land of Black Gold (1948–1950; 1972) best. Time to take my proof-reading tonic.
posted by Namlit at 12:22 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Re: Tintin - from watching the documentary Tintin And I, as well as my own childhood memory, I would consider number 5 - The Blue Lotus and number 20 - Tintin in Tibet as essential reading. Particularly interesting is how Herge's experience writing The Blue Lotus significantly altered the style of his later books.
posted by Magnakai at 12:56 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Anything Moebius (not just the Incal series) will be considered canon. This will include Le Monde d'Edena and Le Garage Hermetique, as well as the Blueberry books he has written as Jean Giraud. Edena and Le Garage Hermetique (and other Major Grubert comics) are a little more free-form than his work with Jodorowsky, while Blueberry is more of a standard western.

I personally would recommend the Adele Blanc-Sec books by Jacques Tardi (also on your list).
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:26 PM on January 4, 2011

Don't forget Enki Bilal and his Nikopol trilogy.
posted by Merzbau at 2:12 PM on January 4, 2011

Philippe Geluck's Le Chat? Claire Brétécher?

(And don't forget Quebec - Michel Rabagliati's "Paul" books are modern classics.
posted by zadcat at 2:34 PM on January 4, 2011

The site you linked is right about "French" comics actually meaning European (continental) comics. It's really a continuum between France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands + South America
I'm not sure about "Canon" since the concept does not really exist in French culture (pop or otherwise), but most of the works below have been turned into live action movies and cartoons, or inspired movies, so that's an indication of how influential they are/were. I didn't put erotica (Milo Manara, Guido Crepax) and kid stuff like Peyo's Schtroumpfs (Smurfs). There are numerous talented artists who emerged in the 90s (Lewis Trondheim, Johan Sfar, Marjane Satrapi, the Nouvelle Bande Dessinée school) but I'm less familiar with them so the list below more or less ends in the late 80s. Canonical magazines would be the Journal de Tintin and Pif le chien (for kids), Metal Hurlant, Pilote and the extremely influential (A Suivre).

- Tintin (Hergé)
- The main series written by René Goscinny: Astérix (with Uderzo), Lucky Luke (with Morris), Iznogoud (with Tabary), le Petit Nicolas (with Sempé)
- André Franquin: Gaston, Spirou & the Marsupilami, the Idées Noires
- Gotlib: the Rubrique-A-Brac, the Dingodossiers, Gai-Luron
- Claire Brétécher's Frustrés and Binet's Bidochons. Both authors named and created popular stererotypes (left-wing intellectuals for Brétécher and proles for the Bidochons).
- Anything by Jean Giraud/Moebius, including scifi (Incal and the 70s strips like Arzach and the Major Fatal stories) and western (Lieutenant Blueberry, written by J.M. Charlier).
- Enki Bilal: the Nikopol trilogy + the Légendes d'Aujourd'hui series (with Pierre Christin)
- Jacques Tardi: the Adèle Blanc-Sec séries, the Nestor Burma series, lots of stand-alone books
- Philippe Druillet: the Lone Sloane trilogy
- Hugo Pratt: the Corto Maltese series (Pratt was Italian but his work remains hugely popular in France)
- Jean-Claude Mézières : the Valérian & Laureline series (with Pierre Christin). It's the main inspiration for the Fifth Element
- Loisel et Le Tendre : La Quête de l'oiseau du temps
- Numerous comics by François Boucq written by Mexican filmmaker Alexandro Jodorowsky and US novelist Jerome Charyn
- Schuiten and Peteers' Cités Obscures séries
- José Muñoz et Carlos Sampayo's Alack Sinner series
posted by elgilito at 2:53 PM on January 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

For canon I would start with the Spirouverse (Spirou et Fantasio, Gaston Lagaffe, Marsupilami), everything Goscinny worked on and Hergé and those of his assistants who went on to do major work themselves: Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor, Roger Leloup and, perhaps most importantly, Jacques Martin. These three strands really define Francophone comics up until the 70s when Moebius and other new voices start being heard (though, as far as Jean Giraud is concerned, a.k.a. Moebius, Blueberry was by far the most influential series he produced in the 70s). This is the stuff that everyone read as kids. Unless they spoke Dutch and Flemish, in which case they also read Willy Vandersteen's Suske en Wiske series. Oh, and Donald Duck comics if they grew up speaking German or any of the Nordic languages, especially the works of Carl Barks (and Don Rosa later).

But anyway... a lot of the later stuff is easier to understand if you know the earlier stuff, i.e. what it means when current artists use the ligne claire style (which was developed by Hergé and his assistants). Of these the most important, besides Franquin, Goscinny and Hergé, is probably Martin, who made the ligne claire style less cartoonish and told quite serious stories as far as the Francophone stories of his time were concerned.
posted by Kattullus at 3:27 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Better answers above, but I just wanted to chime in that growing up in France in the 70s, it was TinTin, Asterix and Lucky Luke that ruled them all. Everything else was extra.
(I still have all my beloved Asterixes, having dragged them through five countries and a dozen plus apartments.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:09 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have a look at Didier Comès' La Belette. It struck me as dark and magical. I read it in french as a teenager and that was quite doable.
Definitely Schuiten en Peeters Cité Obscures.
posted by joost de vries at 8:34 AM on February 18, 2011

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