Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Belgium and France have a long tradition in comics, or la BD as they are known locally. La BD stands for la bande dessinée, derived from the original description of the artform as "drawn strips." It is not insignificant that the French term contains no indication of subject matter, unlike the American comics or "funnies." Indeed, the distinction of comics as the "ninth art" is prevalent in Francophone scholarship on the form (le neuvième art), as is the concept of comics criticism and scholarship itself. Relative to their respective size, these countries' innumerable authors publish huge numbers of comics works every year.
Half of Belgium (Wallonia and Brussels) and France share the French language, making them a unique market where nationality has almost faded out. Although Switzerland contributes less to the body of work, it is significant that many scholars point to a Francophone Swiss, Rudolph Töppfer , as the true father of comics. This choice is still controversial, and it is true that Töppfer's work is probably unconnected to the genesis of the artform as it is now known in the region, as recounted below.
Aside from these magazines, the Catholic Church was creating and distributing "healthy and correct" magazines for the children. In 1920, the abbot of Averbode in Belgium started publishing Petits Belges , a magazine consisting largely of text with few illustrations.
One of the earliest proper Belgian comics was Hergé's Tintin, with the story Tintin in the Land of the Soviets which was published in Le Petit Vingtième in 1930. It was quite different from how we have come to know Tintin, the style being very naïve and simple, even childish, compared to the later stories. The early stories were often politically incorrect, in ways Hergé later regretted.
The first nudge towards modern comic books happened in 1934 when Hungarian Paul Winkler (who had previously been distributing comics to the monthly magazines via his Opera Mundi bureau) made a deal with King Features Syndicate to create the Journal de Mickey , a weekly 8-page "comic-book," in fact, the first real comic-book.
The success was quite immediate, and soon all the other publishers would start churning out periodicals with American series. This continued during the remainder of the decade, with hundreds of magazines publishing mostly imported material.
Of course, the demand was still there, and the previously exclusively French or Flemish comics scrambled to get new material. For example, Edgar P. Jacobs (who later created Blake and Mortimer) had to improvise the ending to an episode of Flash Gordon in the Belgian magazine Bravo . Along with Jacobs, Jacques Laudy , Raymond Reding , Albert Uderzo, and Willy Vandersteen also got their start in Bravo.
The magazine Spirou had started shortly before the war, and was one of the few magazines to survive the changing conditions. Despite being outlawed for long periods by the Germans and having a hard time finding paper, they managed to publish a collection in 1944.
After the war, the American comics didn't come back in nearly as large numbers as before. Interestingly, a lot of the publishers and artists who had managed to continue working during the occupation were accused of being collaborators and were imprisoned by the resistance.
As an example, this happened to one of the famous magazines, Coeurs Vaillants ("Valiant Hearts"). It was founded by abbot Courtois (under the alias Jacques Coeur ) in 1929. As he had the backing of the church, he managed to publish the magazine throughout the war, and was of course charged with being a collaborator. After he was forced out, his successor Pihan (as Jean Vaillant ) took up the publishing, moving the magazine in a more humorous direction.
Hergé was another artist to be prosecuted by the resistance. He, as most others, managed to clear his name and went on to create Studio Hergé in 1950, where he acted as a sort of mentor for the students and assistants that it attracted. Among the people who studied there were Bob de Moor , Jacques Martin, Roger Leloup , and Edgar-Pierre Jacobs, all of whom exhibit the easily recognizable Belgian clean line style.
With a number of publishers in place, including Les Editions Dargaud & Dupuis , two of the biggest influences for over 50 years, the market for domestic comics had reached maturity. In the following decades, magazines like Spirou, Le Petit Vingtième , Vaillant , Pilote, and Heroïc Albums (the first to feature completed stories in each issue, as opposed to the episodic approach of other magazines) would continue to evolve into the style we now know. At this time, the school had already gained fame throughout Europe, and many countries had started importing the comics in addition to—or as substitute for—their own productions.
In the sixties, most of the catholic magazines started to wane in popularity, as they were "re-christianized" and went to a more traditional style with more text and less drawings. This meant that comics like Pilote and Vaillant gained almost the entire market and became the obvious goal for new artists, who took up the styles prevalent in the magazines to break into the business.
The time after 1968 brought many adult comic books, something that hadn't been seen before. L'Écho des Savannes with Gotlib 's crazed delirium of deities watching porn and Bretécher's Les Frustrés ("The Frustrated Ones") were among the earliest. Le Canard Sauvage ("The Mad Duck"), an art-zine featuring music reviews and comics was another. Métal Hurlant with the far-reaching science fiction and fantasy of Moebius, Druillet , and Bilal, made an impact in America in its translated edition, Heavy Metal. This trend continued during the seventies, until the original Métal Hurlant folded in the early eighties, living on only in the American edition (which had in the meantime become independent from its French language parent), although some would argue that it is only a shadow of the original.
The eighties showed the adult comics getting somewhat stale, wallowing in sex and violence (examples of which can be seen in Heavy Metal magazines from the period). The revival came in the 1990s with several small independent publishers emerging, such as l'Association, Amok, and Fréon . These comic books are often more artistic (graphical and narrative research) and better packaged than the usual products of the big companies.
One of the other interesting things to come from the war is the format. Before the war, comics were almost exclusively published as tabloid size newspapers. Now, they are sized about half that. The comics are almost always colored all the way through, and, when compared to American comics, rather large (roughly A4 standard).
Comics are also often published as collected albums (graphic novels), with about 40-50 pages, after the run is finished in the magazine. Lately, most comics are published exclusively as albums and do not appear in the magazines at all. (Many magazines have disappeared, including greats like Métal Hurlant and Pilote.)
Some famous periodicals are Tintin (magazine) , Charlie Hebdo , A suivre , Spirou (magazine).
While the newer comics don't really fall into the old styles, and have generally evolved into something completely different and the old artist who pioneered the market are getting old and retiring, there are still two distinct styles within the school:
As mentioned, late Tintin is a classic example of the realistic style. The comics are often laborously detailed, making the pictures interesting to look at for times on end. Another trait is the often "slow" drawings, with little to no speed-lines, and strokes that are almost completely even. It is also known as the Belgian clean line style or ligne claire. This was exhibited in magazines like Vaillant, Tintin, and Métal Hurlant.
This is the almost Barksian line of Franquin and Uderzo. Pilote is almost exclusively comic-dynamic, and so is Spirou and l'Écho des Savannes. These comics have very agitated drawings, often using lines of varying thickness to accent the drawings.
Despite the already big amount of local publications, the French and Belgium editors published every years numerous adaptations of comics from all over the world, with a particular attraction for other European-like publications, like Italy, with Hugo Pratt and Milo Manara, Spain, with Daniel Torres , Argentina, with Alberto Breccia, Héctor Germán Oesterheld and José Muñoz .
American and British comic books are not well present on the French and Belgian comics market, probably due to the differences of comics' tradition between these countries.
Japanese mangas are receiving more attention since 2000s. More mangas are translated, with a particular attraction for independent authors like Jiro Taniguchi or teenager targeted albums. In addition there is a movement started by cartoonist Frédéric Boilet to unify the French and Japanese comics traditions. See: (La nouvelle manga).
- For a non-exhaustive list of French and Belgian authors, see List of comic creators
- For a non-exhaustive list of French and Belgian comic books, see List of comic books
- For a non-exhaustive list of French and Belgian characters, see Franco-Belgian comics/Characters
- For a non-exhaustive list of French and Belgian comics magazines, see Franco-Belgian comics magazines
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