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image from 'get a life'
french comics
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The French are coming.

Most people’s idea of French comics starts with an irrepressible, moustachio’d Gaul and ends with a plucky boy journalist. Yet although Asterix and Tintin (actually created by Belgium’s Hergé) deserve their much-loved place on the bookshelves, for another, more contemporary taste of what the French call “the ninth art”, turn instead to two recently released volumes from Drawn & Quarterly.

Get A Life and Maybe Later are products of the remarkable double-act of Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berbérian. Get A Life follows the fortunes of everyman dreamer Monsieur Jean: imagine Friends recast with neurotic, cynical twentysomethings in a breezy setting of Parisian cafés and apartments that’s equal parts goofy sitcom and 50s-inspired graphic cool.

Instead of the traditional writer/artist dynamic, Dupuy-Berbérian each contribute both script and art to their books. This apparently seamless relationship is dissected with humour and unflinching honesty in Maybe Later, the duo’s individual graphic journals of the creation of the third Monsieur Jean volume. Far from being newcomers to the comics scene, Dupuy-Berbérian have been working together since 1983. Their Monsieur Jean stories have sold more than 120,000 copies. Not bad, considering that current worldwide sales of Superman comics struggle to reach half that figure.

Maybe Later and The Rabi's Cat (both cover detail).

Yet just one glance inside a marquee at the annual Angoulême festival reveals the staggering popularity of comics in France, with comics and graphic novels stacked high for the public to buy. Mainstream titles range from “bigfoot”-style comedies such as Asterix, to fantasy and historical epics, whilst the main player on the alternative scene is L’Association, the company founded by a group of innovative creators in 1990.

It’s frustrating, then, that the presence of alternative French comics in the UK is generally limited to a handful of titles that are picked up by large publishers, such as L’Association founder David B’s Epileptic (Pantheon) - a disturbing, absorbing work full of dreams and symbolism. Pantheon also published The Rabbi’s Cat, a lighter tale of a Jewish family in 30s Algeria by fellow L’Association creator, Joann Sfar.

Yet despite his having been elected president of the jury for Angoulême 2007, L’Association’s prolific, outspoken Lewis Trondheim barely figures over here. Perhaps his comics – funny animals with an adult appeal – are confusing to publishers, who prefer to deal with known quantities such as Tintin or heavyweight “literary” works such as Epileptic.

Image from Epileptic and Killoffer (cover detail).

Some hope is offered, though, by the emergence of small publisher Typocrat, who last year published 676 Apparitions Of Killoffer, writer/artist (and yet another L’Association member) Killoffer’s blackly comic confrontation with misbehaving multiples of himself. With the promise of an anthology title showcasing quality European work, Typocrat at least seem willing to cross the literal and literary Channel and present translations of French works to us tongue-tied Brits.

In the meantime, Dupuy-Berbérian are now working on their seventh volume of Monsieur Jean’s adventures: to catch up, learning French may well be the wisest option. Bonne chance.

Abi Bliss 20 July 06
Get A Life and Maybe Later by Dupuy & Berbérian, out now published by Drawn & Quarterly.
Read members' comments related to this feature.
silluettes post 3
comment by Soylent_grey    Jul 25, 2006
I thought Maus had taught the English speaking world that comics could be 'art', but at the end of the day I guess it all comes down to cultural attitudes.

We're heading in the right direction, but it'll take some time for us to catch up with France or Japan in this regard.
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silluettes post 2
comment by rowan    Jul 24, 2006
For those of you who might be interested, there are a couple of Trondheim works available in English now. The Dungeon series with Sfar, and A.L.I.E.E.E.N. too I believe.
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silluettes post 1
comment by flyingtwinkle    Jul 21, 2006
outlined blown ups are alloys of gravity and humour
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