Friday, May 11, 2012

Three French graphic novels

There's a long, strong tradition of the bande dessinéebédé or BD for short — in the French language. It's so much more than Tintin. I am awed by the range of material covered by this format — neither "graphic novel" nor "comic strip" or "cartoon" comes close to adequately describing the possibilities.

Bookshops in Montreal have big sections devoted to BDs, and my local bookstore is no exception. The floorspace devoted to BDs is larger than that for any category or genre (the non-genre of "general fiction" aside), and it's bigger than the English books section — although, to be fair, the BDs span genres and include some English editions. I always need to stop and look.

French BD readers surely are already in the know, but here are 3 fascinating-to-me bédés (and we won't even mention the Assassin's Creed series of French-language graphic novels) I recently stumbled upon in-store:

1. Les derniers jours de Stefan Zweig [The last days of Stefan Zweig], by Laurent Seksik (text) and Guillaume Sorel (illustrations).

The author adapted his own book on the subject. It covers the period of August 27, 1941 — the day Austrian writer Zweig and his wife set foot in Rio — to February 22, 1942 — the day they died (suicide by drug overdose), holding hands.

2. Pablo (tome I, Max Jacob), by Julie Birmant (text) et Clément Oubrerie (illustrations).

The first of four volumes, Pablo recounts the daily life of a young Picasso in Montmartre, 1900–1912. Max Jacob, poet and Pablo's roommate, figures prominently as an influence.

3. Nietzsche, by Michel Onfray (text) and
Maximilien Le Roy (illustrations).

This volume follows Nietzsche's quest for happiness, in an attempt to rehabilitate his reputation and position him as a hero for our times.

I hope these books find English translators/publishers some day soon. In the meantime, I suspect I'll be splurging on the above titles anyway, in the interest of practicing my French.


Aliza Dee said...

I adore French BDs and the intense range of subjects which they concern themselves with. French culture, for me, is one of the richest cultures in the world (in fact, I recently started my own English/French blog on all things French!) and the BD has the ability to encapsulate a complicated idea into accessible terms. One of my personal favourites is the series 'Les Cités obscures'; I haven't read the whole series but from what I have read it relates the fictional story of numerous independent cities in which humans live all of whom have developed a truly autonomous civilisation, symbolised through their architecture. I would recommend! I think I might hunt out a copy of 'Les derniers jours de Stefan Zweig', it sounds like a good find!

Kinga said...

I love the sound of all 3 of these! I really should get them, to get my rusty French up to a better level. And I'm sure you've heard of Guy Delisle, a Quebec native, I believe. His Pyongyang, Shenzhen were fantastic accounts of his brief time in both places. I also started on his Burma Chronicles, but a friend refused to lend it to me so I could finish it.

If you haven't read any of them, I would recommend them greatly. I do love BD's, but find myself drawn to the Japanese story-telling mangas, which my library stocks in some quantity. Very little French BD's to be had...the usual English-French debacle?

Isabella Kratynski said...

Thanks for the tip, Aliza Dee, on Les Cités obscures — it looks like an interesting series. I'll look for it next time I'm at the bookstore. I may cheat though and try it in English.

Kinga, I really liked Pyongyang. Delisle has definitely found himself an audience in English — I think his style of "journalistic reportage" has a lot of acceptance in English — more so than more philosophical or plotless pieces.

I have not read any manga — in fact, I've been pretty dismissive of it. I should take another look.

Kinga said...


I can start you off with a little list but I'm only just venturing into manga. A lot of it is awful stuff. But I've read these and enjoyed them:

Japan As Viewed by 17 Creators: a collaboration between French and Japanese artists to produce a book about Japan. It consists of 17 short comics, each by a different artist. Good for discovering new people whose books I want to track down.

Barefoot Gen: a 12-volume (?) story of a young boy, Gen, who survives the Hiroshima atomic bombing and his struggles through the years. Annoyingly, my library's collection stops at volume 6.

Azumanga Daioh: this is very light, but I enjoyed it. It's set in a high school and follows 4 friends as they move through the school years. It doesn't have much depth, but I enjoyed following these teenage girls.

Osamu Tezuka did a series on the life of Buddha, entitled Buddha. I can't remember how many books there are, I've read the first two. They were quite good.

Tatsumi Yoshihiro drew Abandon the Old Tokyo in which he explores the "underbelly" of post-war Tokyo, especially the 60s.

This is a short list, there is much out there that's great, but this is all I've managed to get locally. I wish I read Japanese.