History and memory: French comic books and graphic novels at Cambridge University Library

Comic books (bandes dessinées or BDs) and graphic novels (romans graphiques) are a very important and successful part of French and Francophone publications. A report on the Bande Dessinée was commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture and published in January 2019, ahead of BD 2020, l’année de la bande dessinée. It contained several proposals for better symbolic and institutional recognition for the “9th art”: a stronger local, national and international dissemination and promotion, and an ambitious education policy. 2020 is thus officially « L’année de la bande-dessinée à la BnF »: the French national Library has engaged in a series of printed and online publications as well as events on the topic (prolonged up to 31st June 2021 because of the coronavirus crisis) and has even developed an app, “BDnF, la Fabrique à BD“, for you to try and create your own comic book. The app is accompanied by tutorials, and examples of creations in different sub-genres (including comic strip, manga, webtoon…), based on a selection of digital images from archival BnF documents. You can also read entire comic books online: during the lockdown, publishers such as La Boite à Bulles or Dargaud opened up some of their collections; every month, you can access a free volume on the website of Les Humanoïdes Associés. You can also read online comic books on the Institut Français digital library Culturethèque (sign up for free with your email address), or browse the digitised collections of the Cité internationale de la bande dessinée et de l’image, based in Angoulème, where takes place a major annual International Comics Festival.

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Farewell Uderzo, illustrator of Asterix

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Albert Uderzo in 2012 (via Wikipedia)

Albert Uderzo, illustrator of the popular Asterix adventures saga, passed away on March 24th at the age of 92, a few months after the comic strip, co-created with René Goscinny, turned 60 years old. This anniversary was much celebrated last year in France. Furthermore, 2020 is the bande dessineé (BD) year at the BnF (this will be covered later in another post).

The Asterix adventures have entertained, amused and captivated generations of young and less young readers. The two protagonists of the series, Asterix and Obelix, and their village of indomitable Gauls who always repel the Roman troops, have become universally known, and their series is one of the most popular created in the history of comics. Its remarkable success has not faded with time, it is the best selling European bande dessinée saga (370 million copies) and the most translated comic (111 languages). Continue reading

88th anniversary of Tintin’s first adventure

Tintin had such a great success that he is even better known than his creator, Hergé. Born Georges Remi (1907-1983), Hergé was his pen name, based on his reversed initials, as pronounced in French. The only rival to Tintin’s fame in Franco-Belgian comics is Asterix, created by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo in 1959. Tintin and Snowy (Milou, in French), his faithfull dog, share adventures with distinctive characters well known by every generation, such as: captain Haddock, detectives Thomson and Thompson (Dupond and Dupont) and Professor Calculus (Tournesol).

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Tintin au pays des Soviets, 2017 (new colour edition).

January 2017 marked the 88th anniversary of Tintin’s first story: Tintin au pays des Soviets (C200.a.4909). It was published in the children’s supplement of the Belgian conservative newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle, called Le Petit Vingtième. This anti-Bolshevik sketch was later considered by Hergé a “sin of his youth”. His knowledge of Russia was limited, and unlike his following stories, this book is almost plotless. The original was published in black and white and has been recently released for the first time in colour. In his second adventure, Tintin visits the Belgian Congo. On the one hand Tintin au Congo has been considered racist by some, because of its naïve portrait of native Congolese peoples; on the other hand, others think is shows a benevolently paternalist vision of colonialism. Despite the books’s old-fashioned vision –a result of the time it was written and Hergé’s ignorance about the Congo, which he recognised– the book was a great success. Interestingly P. Delisle wonders if Tintin au Congo is, in fact, antislavery literature. Continue reading

Latin American Graphic Novels in the UL

This is a guest post by Joanna Page, Senior Lecturer in Latin American Cultural Studies and Director of the Centre of Latin American Studies.

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Cover of our copy of El eternauta (2014.8.4976)

The graphic novel has been enjoying a boom in many regions of the world, and is increasingly finding a serious, adult readership. Following on from Art Spiegelman’s renowned Maus (1980-1991), which demonstrated as never before the potential in graphic fiction for the treatment of important political themes, writers such as Joe Sacco, Marjane Satrapi, Chris Ware and Alison Bechtel have found the graphic novel to be a very effective medium to reflect on contemporary topics from war and religion to social isolation and sexuality. Continue reading

Graphic novels in the UL – Les cinq de Cambridge

We have previously written about our struggle with selecting which bandes dessinées we should buy for the UL’s collections. As well as our burgeoning interest in collecting BD, we also have a selection of scholarly works of criticism of BD. Three new books help to demonstrate the breadth of material available:

The UL doesn't feature in the story, but Trinity College does.

The UL doesn’t feature in the story, but Trinity College does.

A new set of graphic novels aptly demonstrates the challenge that we have in determining whether to buy graphic novels: Les cinq de Cambridge by Olivier Neuray & Valérie Lemaire will be a series of graphic novels about the Cambridge Spies. While comic books about spying are not the usual domain of the University Library, the subject matter of these made them difficult to ignore. We have received the first in the series (TrinityC201.b.7951) and I had a quick look through to see if the UL makes an appearance (sadly, it doesn’t). The next volume, 54 Broadway, moves beyond Cambridge, so our hopes for immortality in the world of the graphic novel are dashed for the moment. Continue reading