Monday, 6 August 2012

French-speaking comics artists deserving a bigger audience...

Once again, The Comics Reporter realised an interesting mini-survey. A few people were asked to name five French-speaking cartoonists who could have a bigger audience with English-speaking readers that they have now.

It depends on what you expect when you talk of "bigger audience". If it is public, or even mainstream, success, Bastien Vivès is probably the first name to tell at this time of writing. His art is really lovely, he is very prolific and his stories fit very well in mainstream culture. Polina, one his latest book, on a young dancer, is really good.

Quite many other names come to my mind when I think of cartoonists who could get a bigger audience in English-speaking countries. And most of these names were given by some of the people interviewed by the Comics Reporter.

Among the older ones, André Franquin comes first. He is clearly one of the, if not THE, most talented humoristic French-speaking comics artist from the 1950s to the 1970s (probably on par with Albert Uderzo). He is also one the most influential Belgian comics artist with Hergé (Moebius being French). Gaston Lagaffe and his Idées Noires are his most famous works.

One generation younger, Baru is also a great artist. His art is very specific, both in colors and in black and white. His most characteristic feature is the importance he gives to the social background of his stories. They often take place in Western France, in places that suffered a lot from the decrease of industrial activity in the 1960s and 1970s.

Among the younger generation, the most talented artists were named in the post of the Comics Reporter: Joann Sfar, very prolific and often very funny, Christophe Blain (his Quai d'Orsay, about a French minister of Foreign Affairs, is very funny and very informative), David B (his Epileptic, available in English, is a true masterpiece of autobiographical comics), Nicolas de Crécy, Blutch, Frédérik Peeters, Marc-Antoine Matthieu, and a few others.

OK, all these authors are very talented ones. But two others, who were named only once or twice in the post of the Comics reporter, deserve, in my humble opinion, much more recognition than all these and are still surprisingly and, if I daresay, scandalously, ignored by English-speaking publishers: Edmond Baudoin and Fabrice Neaud.

Edmond Baudoin, active since the 1980s, is more or less, directly or indirectly, the godfather of all the French-speaking alternative comics that have flourished since the 1990s, from Lewis Trondheim to Marjane Satrapi. If I wanted to give an indication of the recognition he enjoys among these alternative comics artists, I would say that it could be compared to that of Robert Crumb in the States (OK, I know that this kind of comparison is stupid and pointless, but it's just to give a rough idea...). From a graphical point of view, he is one of the most gifted artist in the comics field ever. Influenced by many artists outside the comics field, a.o. Chinese traditional painters, he has a very original and really beautiful drawing style. His whole work aims at painting life; but life in itself, as an absolute. All his works aim at reaching this impossible dream. So he keeps on developing new techniques, new ways of doing comics to better depict life around him, to convey more emotion, to create more beauty. I do not know whether one of his book has ever been translated into English...

Fabrice Neaud is younger. His main works are the four volumes of his "Diary". In this masterpiece, he tells his own story, that of a young, jobless, gay artist living in a middle-size French city. In these four books, he reached new heights in autobiographical comics. He uses many possibilities offered by the comics medium in an innovative and original way to describe his life and feelings and to offer a very relevant critic of our present way of life. As of now, very few of his works have been translated into English. A 30-page short story is available on his publisher's website. Two other short stories (here) and the first ten pages of his Diary (here) are also available on the Internet. An English website is devoted to him.

I wish English-speaking readers could discover soon these two great artists.

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