Bonjour! Welcome to this week’s edition of “So You Want To Read Comics”, a weekly feature where we focus on a single topic and then recommend some comics for new readers, based on that topic. Simple enough. This week we’re looking at you “lover of all things French”, you adorable Francophile you.
*Quick note* I will be focusing on France here, but realistically what I’m referring to in this article is more of a Franco-Belgian comic book culture and in no way mean to diminish the contributions from Belgian creators.
While The US and Japan may have the most well known and celebrated histories with comic books and animation, France should be right up there in the discussion. France affectionately refers to comic book (or bande dessinees) creation as The 9th Art, putting it (unofficially) amongst the fine arts. France is home to some of the most recognizable characters in the world, like Asterix and Tintin, as well as world renown comic book celebrations like the Angoulême International Comics Festival. Just to throw some numbers at you, there are currently around 5000 different comic book titles published in France today and in 2009 had a comic book market worth 385 million dollars (putting it 3rd in the world behind the US and Japan).
So, with such a strong comic culture, where do you start? Well, here you go.
Valérian and Laureline
Writer: Pierre Christin
Artist: Jean-Claude Mézières
If you’re going to dive into the world of French comic books, might as well start with one of the most influential science fiction properties of all time. Following the titular characters and their adventures through space and time as they operate as “Spatio-temporal Agents”. This series ran for almost 50 years. During this run, Valerian and Laureline became known for classical stylized heroes, inventive storylines, a strong humanist philosophy, and vivid, colorful art that beautifully depicted alien worlds and familiar landmarks alike. This comic’s influence can be seen in everything from Star Wars to the Fifth Element, to eventually its own movie (for better or worse.) Now, it should be noted that some of the earlier volumes have some rather dated views on gender roles, but it eventually went on to be a very progressive title with Laureline becoming a strong character in her own right. With over 20 volumes available, Valerian and Laureline is a French comic series that will keep you invested for a while.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
Writer: Marjane Satrapi
Artist: Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis was immediately praised when it came on the scene in 2000. It won multiple awards, including the “Wildcat” which is basically awarded to the best comic of the year by the Angouleme International Comics Festival. Persepolis is an autobiographical story of a woman’s childhood during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. It’s been praised for being an effective personal story but also managing to criticize authoritarianism while humanizing Iran. Persepolis follows a tradition among Franco-Belgium comics of being filled with challenging ideas and being open to having something poignant to say. Not to say that there isn’t humor to be had, as much of the edge of the writing is paired with a sense of sarcasm and sardonic humor. Essentially Persepolis is the perfect example of how the medium can be elevated without being pretentious or inaccessible. It will certainly go down as one of the best comic books of all time to come out of France and deserves a read.
By no means are these two recommendations the be all end all of French comics and if you enjoy these, you should absolutely continue to explore what they have to offer. So what did you think of these suggestions? Do you have some of your own? Let us know in the comment section below.