This week our French friends celebrate their Fète Nationale, traditionally remembering the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789, which set in motion the French Revolution. Since we at FPI are constantly trying to get good French (and Belgian and other European) comics in the spotlight (Richard when they’ve been translated, me predominantly while hoping they someday will be), we thought it would be a good idea to present to you fourteen great French comics to read for this holiday. Fourteen books that somehow represent La France, in whatever form that may be. So to warm you up for the 14th tomorrow, here’s the first half of my French BD mix :
Astérix Le Gaulois by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo – I don’t think I’d be able to credibly give my list of 14 great French BD without including Astérix. Everything I know about France, about regional differences and specialties, and about man’s pettiness in general, I learned from the little gaul. This series (well, let’s say up and until Astérix et les Belges) is the best satire on life in Western Europe in the 20th Century bar none.
Blueberry by Jean-Michel Charlier and Jean Giraud – It would seem to me that the US would rather limit Gir’s output to the sci-fi work he did as Moebius, but I prefer the raw Western saga about the very flawed Lieutenant Blueberry, the stubbled lonesome cowboy who really shoots faster than his shadow — to kill. When read from first to last, this series shows French comics growing up in terms of content, theme and graphical prowess. Start with Angel Face or Ballade Pour Un Cerceuil.
Monsieur Jean by Dupuy and Berbérian – This is the ongoing chronicle of an up-and-coming famous author in Paris, his struggle to make it in the literary world, and his continuing battle with the world around him, with women, children, friends and passers-by. What makes this series interesting is not just the sitcom-like atmosphere, or the great 60s-like art that both authors contribute to, but the fact that Jean, although an everyman, grows from book to book. He overcomes his fears, changes his views, and generally finds his way. Also try Dupuy and Berbérian’s Journal d’un Album, one of the best accounts of what it takes to create a real good comic.
Route De Nuit by Jean Graton – Rather than fast cars, advertising and ludicrous sound effects, this early episode in the long-running series Michel Vaillant is about honesty, friendship and growing up. It’s set amongs those other knights of the road : cross-country truckers. In the early ’60′s France was still a large country, and in this book, these distances play an important part. It also taught me that crime is often a last resort for desperate people.
L’Aigle Sans Orteils by Lax – Continuing the vast distances theme, this book chronicles the early years of one of the most heroic sports events ever : the Tour de France. Before high-tech bikes or multi-million dollar advertising deals, the Tour was a battle against technical failure, the elements and your own human weakness. When it ended in glory, that glory was immense. When it ended in failure, that failure was bottomless. I wrote about this book earlier for the blog.
L’Ascension du Haut Mal by David B – This six-part series tells the story of how the author’s family learned to cope with his brother’s epilepsy, but it is much more than that. David B also draws a quite revealing portrait of what it means to be young in the 1970′s, when all traditions were questioned and new life was an experiment. The book is also a great experience in terms of graphical style, which is at once naive and brutally realistic, and exquisitely combines real life elements with the world of dreams and the subconscious.
Approximativement by Lewis Trondheim – The ultimate autobiographical graphic novel, in which BD powerhouse Trondheim broadly exhibits all his frustrations, obsessions, fears and shames. Rather than his Petits Riens webcomics, I choose this, as it shows how Trondheim develops as an artist, but also as a storyteller. The book also paints a fascinating picture of the Paris comic world, and of the early years of l’Association, the revolutionary small press that Trondheim helped found.