Welcome to the second edition of the International Bande Dessinée Society column, a look back at developments in the world of bande dessinée (francophone comics) scholarship and research.
No retrospective examination of the year in bande dessinée can overlook the tragic events of January 2015: the shooting at the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The events and their ramifications have been discussed endlessly in the press, and discussion of the political or wider global effects of the attack is far beyond the remit of this column. However, the deaths of Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb), Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut (Cabu), Bernard Verlhac (Tignous) and Philippe Honoré represent a huge loss for not only Charlie Hebdo but the wider world of bande dessinée. Several of them were key figures in the development of post-war bande dessinée and wider visual culture in France. For example, Cabu and Wolinski’s work appeared in Charlie Hebdo from its beginnings in 1969 as well as its predecessor Hara-Kiri. Cabu and Charb, along with economist Bernard Maris, who was also killed, were instrumental in the resurrection of Charlie Hebdo in 1992 (publication had ceased in 1981). It is this incarnation which continues to the present day. Charlie Hebdo represents a particularly French tradition of satirical cartooning which lost many of its most important figures in the attacks. If you would like to know more about Charlie Hebdo and its place in French culture, Berghahn has published an informative blog post by Mark McKinney (University of Miami, Ohio) at their site, as well as making available two articles from European Comic Art: a history of the journal and its politics, as well as an interview with Cabu.
This year, as every year, the biggest event in the bande dessinée calendar was the Angoulême festival, with 2015 marking its 42nd outing. Japanese artist Katsuhiro Otomo won the festival’s Grand Prix, the first manga cartoonist to win a lifetime achievement award, and prizes were also awarded to works by Riad Sattouf, Bastien Vivès and Chris Ware, amongst others. In remembrance of the attacks in Paris, the festival created a special award, the Prix Charlie Hebdo de la Liberté D’Expression. This special Grand Prix was given to Stéphane Charbonnier, Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut, Bernard Verlhac and Philippe Honoré to commemorate their achievements in the field of bande dessinée.
There are so many bande dessinée fairs, conventions and festivals in France and Belgium that it becomes impossible to keep track of all of them. One interesting example is SoBD (Salon des Ouvrages sur la Bande Dessinée), a 3-day festival that has been organised for the past four years by the bande dessinée website Stripologie.com and the eponymous Association SoBD.
The main focus of SoBD is not works of bande dessinée, but rather literature about bande dessinée: theoretical works, monographs, technical manuals, books on the history of the medium, etc. Attendees are able to buy many bande dessinées and much associated literature, and also attend various exhibitions and talks by those involved in bande dessinée publication, conservation and analysis. The guest of honour for this latest event was David B., author of Epileptic. There were also exhibitions on the work of bande dessinée creators Vincent Pompetti (La Guerre des Gaulles) and Christian Maucler (Les Enquêtes du Commissaire Raffini).
For the first time, the Archives Nationales in Paris are holding an exhibition on collaboration in France during the Second World War. The exhibition, which runs from the 26th November 2014 until the 5th April 2015, looks at the various economic, political, military and cultural aspects of Vichy France, the German Occupation and collaboration. This includes a focus upon the cartoonists producing work during the Occupation, particularly Ralph Soupault and Enem. The exhibition of cartoonists’ work published in the form of newspaper comics, leaflets and posters produced during les années noires is the first of its kind, and an excellent opportunity to understand how the medium survived and thrived during the period, as a tool for propaganda. The exhibition explores the authorised comics and bande dessinée published in France between 1940 and 1944, providing an important counterweight to the more prevalent examinations of resistance comics in the same period.
Research and Conferences
This summer will see the Sixth International Graphic Novel and Comics Conference and the Ninth International Bande Dessinée Society Conference held at the University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP). The conference theme is Voyages, analysing the link between sequential art and the voyage, as well as the broader notion of voyage, moving past the geographical definition into the metaphysical. The conference welcomes papers covering all forms of comics, the graphic novel, and bande dessinée. Fittingly, the conference extended its deadline for the submission of proposals in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, in order to incorporate papers addressing these recent events and facilitate greater academic discussion of this difficult yet important event in French and bande dessinée history.
The second half of 2014 saw a number of new books published on various aspects of bande dessinée. Of particular interest is Leuven University Press’s new series, Studies in European Comics and Graphic Novels. Two books from the series have been published so far: The French Comic Theory Reader, edited by Ann Miller and Bart Beaty, and Sfar So Far: Identity, History, Fantasy and Mimesis in Joann Sfar’s Graphic Novels by Fabrice Leroy. The series, whose titles are to be published in English, will investigate comics within a variety of national and historical contexts: future publications include works on 19th Century graphic narratives and British girls’ comics. The two titles already published present an important step forward for bande dessinée scholarship in English. The French Comics Theory Reader gathers together several French texts on bande dessinée and translates them into English for the first time. Many major figures in bande dessinée scholarship are represented (including Thierry Groensteen, Pierre Fresnault-Deruelle, Jan Baetens, Pascal Lefèvre, and Francis Lacassin, amongst others). Some texts are ‘classics’, key texts in the study of French comics, while some are brand new and published here for the first time. The Reader is particularly valuable as an English-language resource on the francophone comic. It opens up the field of bande dessinée to those who do not speak French, presenting a wealth of information on graphic narratives and scholarship which remain obscure in the English-speaking world.
Sfar So Far is also an important work, as it is the first scholarly book published (in French or in English) on the work of Joann Sfar ( The Rabbi’s Cat, Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life). It includes sections on Sfar’s portrayal of Jewish identity, his representations of history and memory, intertextuality and the use of archetypal figures (the devil, the wizard, etc), as well as an interview with the creator himself.
In terms of francophone scholarship, in 2014 Les Impressions Nouvelles published M. Töpffer invente la bande dessinée by Thierry Groensteen. The new book is an updated reworking of Groensteen’s work with Benoit Peeters, Töpffer: L’Invention de la Bande Dessinée (1994), with Peeters’ contribution replaced by a section on those influenced by Topffer’s work. Topffer has widely been argued to be the father of bande dessinée, so this examination of later works helps to explore the development of the bande dessineé medium from his work through the nineteenth and twentieth century.
In the 30 years since the death of Georges Remi, better known as Hergé, the secondary literature on his most famous creation, Tintin, has become mountainous. With both the amateur and the experienced tintinophile in mind, August 2014 witnessed the publication of Tintin, Bibliographie d’un Mythe by Dominique Cerbelaud and Olivier Roche. This work aims to categorise all the existing secondary literature surrounding Tintin, as well as studies into the author himself. The Bibliographie covers 400 individual works, chronicling their content, significance, strengths and weaknesses. This important bibliographical work is an excellent tool for academics new to the field as well as those looking to further explore the existing Tintin literature to date.
Until our next column in August, we would like to suggest ways of keeping on top of upcoming publications. Comicalité is an online journal which contains academic articles on francophone comics, exploring the medium in general as well as the links between anglophone and francophone sequential art. The journal includes important articles from luminaries like Thierry Crépin and Pascal Lefèvre.
Lisa Tannahill is a PhD student at the University of Glasgow. Her research focuses on representations of the peripheral French regions in francophone bande dessinée, particularly Brittany, Corsica, their respective regional identities, and France’s historical attitude towards its periphery. Other interests include gender and postcolonial issues in the bande dessinée and graphic representations of the World Wars.
Chris O’Neill is a PhD student at Aston University, Birmingham. His research focuses on the development of newspaper cartooning in France between 1920 and 1944, particularly the impact of Candide and Gringoire during this period. Other areas of interest include representations of political figures and conflict in bande dessinée, and right-wing French politics in the inter-war period.