For as long as I can remember, people always told me that comic books in France were more respected, read by grown men on the Metro on their way to work. When I finally visited France for the first time in the 1970s I found out this wasn't entirely true. In fact, comics in France cannot be compared to the floppies published by Marvel, DC and Dark Horse in the US. One reason is that the form of the "comic" is different.
From early in the 20th century, European floppies were published weekly or monthly, but contained only a couple pages of any particular story. The publishers found a couple benefits in this: they could have a wide variety of stories in each magazine, readers would buy their favorite stories and discover other characters, and the artist could be paid a little at a time. When the story finally ended, it was often published in a hard-bound album. For example, Herge's Tintin stories were originally published in Le Petite Vingtieme, and then were later bound in the volumes readers in the US are familiar with.
Since the mid 1980s US publishers have begun to embrace the square bound compilation we call a "graphic novel," or trade paperbacks (TPBs). Now, it's so ubiquitous that for the past 15 or 20 years Marvel and DC have regularly republished story arcs from monthly titles as compiled TPBs.
Aside from the form of comics, what about the content? Are comic stories and creators more respected in Europe?
In France and Belgium comics are referred to as BDs (bay-days), an abbreviation of phrase bandes dessinées which translates from the original description of the art form as "drawn strips". Since the 1960s comics in Europe have been recognized as "the ninth art." This phrase comes from a series of articles by Morris' (Maurice De Bevere) about the history of comics, which appeared in Spirou magazine from 1964 to 1967.
Le Journal de Spirou) is still published, a weekly Franco-Belgian comics magazine. Starting out in 1938, it was an eight-page weekly magazine with a mixture of short stories, gags, serial comics, and some American reprints. Some of the more notable characters that ran in Spirou were Lucky Luke by Morris, the Smurfs by Peyo, Gil Jourdan by Maurice Tillieux, and Gaston Lagaffe by Andre Franquin. These artists were often stylistically grouped as the Marcinelle School - a counterpoint to the ligne claire of the artists who appeared in Tintin magazine.
Le Journal de Tintin) was published weekly from 1946 until 1993. In addition to publishing some Tintin stories, some artists and characters that might stand out were Hugo Pratt's Corto Maltese, Will Eisner's The Spirit. Also, Willy Vandersteen's Bob et Bobette was a long-running popular comic.
Pilote was published in France from 1959 to 1989. While it was a magazine for kids, many of the artists who had work in the magazine went on to become major talents drawing stories for adults and beyond. Most of the major French or Belgian talents of the magazine introduced major series in Pilote. The examples are astounding: Astérix, Barbe-Rouge, Blueberry, Achille Talon, and Valérian et Laureline. Major writers like René Goscinny, Jean-Michel Charlier, Greg, and Jacques Lob, and artists such as Jijé, Morris, Albert Uderzo, Jean (Mœbius) Giraud, Enki Bilal, Jean-Claude Mézières, Jacques Tardi, Philippe Druillet, and Marcel Gotlib published in Pilote.
index of Pilote issues here.
So, where is the cultural legitimacy?
Perhaps it started with the left-leaning satire magazine Charlie Hebdo (1969-present) and its precursor Hara-Kiri (1960-1970). These were satirical magazines similar to Harvey Kurtzman's magazines Trump, Humbug or Help! The magazine ran under the title Hara-Kiri, but it was banned after they ran a cover joke about French president Charles de Gaulle's recent death. To side-step the ban the publisher renamed the magazine to Charlie Hebdo - an inside joke referring to a magazine that ran Charlie Brown comics called Charlie Mensuel (Charlie Monthly), and also to Charles De Gaulle's death. Charlie Hebdo is still published, and apparently it's still edgy - a 2011 issue was renamed "Charia Hebdo," guest-edited by Mohammed.
After 1970, the market for mature, envelope-pushing, and bizarre comics seemed to explode with publications such as L'Echo des Savanes, Metal Hurlant, À Suivre, and Fluide Glacial.
L’Écho des Savanes featured the work of French and international authors and graphic artists in mature-oriented comics over the course of 34 years, temporarily ended publication in 2006 and relaunching in 2008.
In the early 70's notable artists were Alexis, Harvey Kurtzman, Jean Solé, and Moebius. From 1975 to 1976 the magazine published work by Neal Adams, Richard Corben, Robert Crumb, Dick Giordano, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jeff Jones, Gérard Lauzier, Jacques Lob, Georges Pichard, Jacques Tardi, Martin Veyron, Wallace Wood and Berni Wrightson. The late 70s and early 80's saw stories from Jean Michel Charlier, Guido Crepax, Jean-Claude Forest, Carlos Giménez, Tanino Liberatore and Art Spiegelman. Later issues had work by Baru, Will Eisner, Milo Manara, Frank Miller, Jean-Marc Reiser, Alex Toth, Jano and Alex Varenne. In addition to "adult" comic strips, issues contained articles featuring photographs of semi-naked women. Here is a link to an index of the issues.
Métal Hurlant ("Howling Metal") was an anthology of science fiction and horror comics stories, created in 1974 by Jean Giraud (better known as Mœbius), Philippe Druillet, journalist-writer Jean-Pierre Dionnet and financial director Bernard Farkas. These four were collectively known as "Les Humanoïdes Associés" (United Humanoids), which became the name of the publishing house releasing Métal hurlant. The magazine is perhaps best known in the US as "Heavy Metal", and inspired the movie by the same name. Many of the artists who published in L'Echo des Savanes can also be found in Metal Hurlant. Here is a link to an index of back issues of Metal Hurlant.
"À Suivre" ("To Be Continued") is considered to have been one of the major vehicles for the development of Franco-Belgian comics during the 20th century. It published major European comic book artists including Hugo Pratt, Jean-Claude Forest, Alexandro Jodorowsky, Milo Manara, Jean (Mœbius) Giraud, Jacques Tardi, François Bourgeon, F'Murr, Ted Benoît, Guido Crepax, Vittorio Giardino, François Schuiten, Benoît Sokal and François Boucq. Here's a link to the index of past issues.
Fluide Glacial is what might happen if Al Jaffee and Rod Serling were friends and talked Bill Gaines into doing a monthly anthology comic. The stories are offbeat, sometimes infantile, and are often disturbing or have a shock twist ending. During its years Fluide Glacial has featured the work of French and international authors and graphic artists such as Jacques Lob, Luc Nisset, Édika, Claire Bretécher, Jean Solé, François Boucq, Moebius, Jean-Claude Mézières, Loup, Daniel Goossens and André Franquin. It now sells some 120,000 copies a month. Here's a link to the index of past issues.
This short-lived series, BD, offered a platform for many influential artists, including Al Capp, Zippy the Pinhead artist Bill Griffith, Art Spiegelman, and Dutch cartoonist Joost Swarte. Jacques Tardi first introduced his character Adele Blanc-Sec in BD. Here's the index of past issues.
So, do adults read comic books on the Metro in Paris? Probably not so much. But they do read comics, and many comics are written specifically for French-speaking adults. From this list of notable Franco-Belgian comics, perhaps only a third of them are for children, so there must be a market for more mature material. This list of the top 20 "coolest" French comics has a similar makeup.
Unfortunately, a lot of the anthology magazines have given up publishing. This may be due to the internet, and it could be that many artists are trying their hands at publishing digital comics. So, the time for reading comic books may be passing. Instead, adults will be reading comics on their phones and tablets on the Metro. What's the French word for iPad?