Friday, November 28, 2008

Bandes Dessinées—Comics and Then Some

Who would have though that the French would be obsessed with comic books? Certainly not me, until I moved here and noticed that in any town of any noticeable size, there was at least one bookstore entirely dedicated to bandes dessinées, or BDs as they are called for short. Aside from noticing the crowds in the BD section at just about any Fnac bookstore, I never really followed up on this observation until just recently, when I wrote an article on the subject for a magazine. After having spent a few weeks boning up on Corto Maltese, Monsieur Jean, and Isaac the Pirate, I can now report that I have been converted to the cause. Because this peculiar literary form, when put in the right hands, can produce true works of art—or at the very least, excellent entertainment. We’re not talking superheros here. Nor are we really talking graphic novels, which are getting a lot of attention in the US, but seem a lot grimmer than their French BD cousins. American graphic novels also tend to be longer than BDs, which are large hardbound “albums” of about 50 pages. Then there’s the subject matter, which covers, well, just about everything. While there is a large volume of adventure series—ranging from the legendary Tintin, which is aimed at kids, to Largo Winch, which most definitely isn’t—there is also humor, history, science fiction, pornography, heroic fantasy, journalism, biography and even a BD version of the Bible.

And then there’s a whole bunch beautifully written and drawn stories that I don’t know how to classify except to say that they are part of a more recent, more thoughtful approach towards what they call here “the 9th art.” The most well-known of this bunch would probably be Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, which was recently made into a movie, but there are dozens, if not hundreds of other good writers (my personal fave for the moment is Joann Sfar, the author of The Rabbi’s Cat and Vampire Loves) out there who deserve international attention.

Many of these authors got their start at Le Festival International de la Bande Dessinée, a gigantic comics festival that takes place every January in Angoulême. Feeling intrigued, but don’t read French? Check out the English translations at NBM Publishing, Pantheon Graphic Novels, and Drawn & Quarterly, for starters…

No comments: