January 31, 2019
France’s burgeoning world of comic books
by Michael Seidlinger
From the first graphic novel to be nominated for the Man Booker prize, Sabrina, to the fact that this year is the legendary Batman’s 80th anniversary, comics have been big business for quite some time. Though in some corners of the industry comic books continue to be viewed in a different light, let’s take what’s been happening in France as yet another example to wake up and enjoy the wonderful work being published worldwide.
The Angoulême International Comics Festival, recently held this past week, has become a perfect temperature gauge of comic books’ popularity in the French-speaking world. Seb Emina reports for The New York Times that in Angoulême, a city about 280 miles southwest of Paris, comic books take on serious cultural significance. In addition to the festival, the city houses both a museum and a library devoted entirely to comics. Stéphane Beaujean, artistic director of the festival, told Emina that it’s “the only place in the world where you can see all the comics created in the world.”
The festival’s attendance has doubled since last year, with authors such as Jean-Luc Fromental claiming it to be a golden age for comics. Terry Moore, the artist known for the long-running Strangers in Paradise series, sang nothing but praise of France’s interest in comic books: “In America, it’s about the pop culture … in France, I’m seeing that it’s about books, books, books.”
In fact, the festival encompasses countless subjects; it isn’t just superhero fare here. We’re talking topics as wide as the wines of Burgundy to erotic space operas. Comic books are becoming an open-ended medium for a diverse range of topics. “The market has risen from 700 books per year in the 1990s to 5,000 this year,” Beaujean told Emina. “I don’t know any cultural industry which has had that kind of increase.”
The icing on the proverbial cake: the festival has its own bevy of prizes, the winners selected by a panel of seven judges who are all writers and artists themselves. Among the works awarded this year are Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (winning the Fauve d’Or, or Golden Wildcat award for the year’s best book) and Rumiko Takahashi (the Grand Prix, the lifetime achievement award).
In France and Belgium alone, we’re seeing the comic book industry reaching near $580 million euros. Emina notes that beyond the excitement and enthusiasm “the exuberant headlines conceal a more complex picture.” More money means there are more books being published, more publishers and writers hoping to make that cash grab. But isn’t that always the situation? Either way, the excitement is so palpable you can almost feel it here in the States.
Michael Seidlinger is the Library and Academic Marketing Manager at Melville House.