What is this “revival” of the youth comic book that forms the title of the exhibition that you curate?
The link between comics and youth has existed since the medium was invented: drawing is intrinsically linked to childhood. And it's no surprise that the comic's big hits - Tintin, Spirou, Pilote - are dedicated to a youth audience.
After May 1968 and the tremendous expansion of comics, youth comics became somewhat neglected. The catalogue collections testified to a certain classicism that the 1980s revived, with series such as Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche by Alain Dodier, Théodore Poussin by Frank Le Gall and Broussaille by Frank Pé… then new artistic and editorial projects were born. Great efforts were made at Delcourt Jeunesse, with Davodeau and Joub with Max and Zoé and Joann Sfar with Petit Vampire, and at Dupuis with Petit Poilu by Bailly and Fraipont. Bayard has decided to move away from the “coloured card” album format to a more practical and flexible object, for example with Ariol, the hit series by Emmanuel Guibert and Marc Boutavant. The other phenomenal success is Mortelle Adèle by Antoine Dole (Mr Tan), with over 3 million copies sold, marking a return to popular comics and short stories with gags at their heart. And, at the opposite end of the spectrum, Les Carnets de Cerise (Cici's Journal) by Joris Chamblaine and Aurélie Neyret have shown that you can surpass all standards, by including scrapbooking, a long story and a very elaborate model. We owe the revival of youth comics to the ambition of a generation that youth audiences are particularly inspired by.
Besides authors and publishers, is there anyone else who is involved in this revival?
The French Ministry of Education shows a real interest in comics. It's actually a good tool for helping students who drop out become interested in reading. Libraries are also very important: comic books are the most borrowed and read form of book. It should also be noted that a new generation of critics has promoted their production: the Association of Comic Book Critics and Journalists (ACBD) is now awarding a Youth Prize.
How does France compare to other youth comic book producing countries?
When it comes to comics in general, Japan clearly dominates the market: manga has conquered the world! However, we are almost equally placed with the United States, but unlike Americans, we cover all fields – from the social to the political to detective stories…when superheroes were being created on the other side of the Atlantic – and this is particularly true for youth comics – the Franco-Belgian comic strip was being built on the success of Tintin, of Goscinny who “invented” the importance of scriptwriting, the genius of press creators (Métal Hurlant, Fluide glacial, L’Écho des savanes, Circus...), the magazine À suivre (To Follow), and then the advent of the publishing house L’Association…these were all opportunities that came together at the same time – and that didn’t happen in Spain, Italy or Germany for example.
Do French children's comic books export well?
Our comic books have probably suffered for a long time from a certain naivety when it comes to exporting...but today countries such as China, Korea and the United Arab Emirates show a very strong interest in French youth comics. And they sell best in the United States and Japan.
More generally, the form of the graphic novel is what seems to appeal most to foreigners, whether you think of authors like Marjane Satrapi, Riad Sattouf, Joann Sfar or Pénélope Bagieu. In countries that don't have a truly established comic culture, graphic novels can appeal to everyone. For my part, I strongly believe in the ability of Franco-Belgian comics to find new audiences abroad, a potential that is still, in my opinion, underexploited.
What is the role of your association, On a Marché sur la Bulle, in this landscape?
The association was born out of the Rendez-vous de la bande BD d’Amiens, which we created in 1996 with the aim of introducing works to audiences. We immediately had the confidence of Paul Gillon – author of the Naufragés du temps (The Castaways in Time) in 1974 and winner of the Angoulême Grand Prix in 1982 – and Enki Bilal, who designed our poster, creating a real dynamic. Following our desire to reach all audiences, we lost no time in focusing on youth and mediation. We were among the first to work on kinetics – the physical demands of the visitor reader – with illuminated tables and picto-text reading based on pictograms. Today, more than a quarter of our work is dedicated to youth, we work with some 30 high schools across Hauts-de-France, organise travelling exhibitions and have created Les Éditions de la Gouttière, which publishes top best-sellers such as Enola by Joris Chamberlain and Lucile Thibaudier, and Supers by Frédéric Maupomé and Dawid Cathelin.
How has the association adapted its actions to the health crisis?
We are continuing our actions with regard to educational service. We are used to making exhibitions and content remotely, so we are continuing to work with teachers. We are planning a digital component as well as a paper edition focusing on creation, to supplement the festival that was to take place in June. We will probably increase the number of exhibitions in libraries and our next objective is public space. At the end of containment, we will have to bring reading to where people will return: the street!
What are your favourites, inside or outside the exhibition?
If I were to choose from the last decade, I would mention both Fleurs de grand frère (Big Brother’s Flowers) by Gaëlle Geniller – a unique album – and more established works such as the Bergères guerrières (Shepherdess Warrior) series by Jonathan Garnier and Amélie Fléchais, or Les Enfants de la Résistance (The Children of the Resistance) by Vincent Dugomier. I am also thinking of the Fils de l’Ursari (Son of the Ursari) by Xavier-Laurent Petit and Cyrille Pomès, published by Rue de Sèvres, which received the 2019 ACBD Youth Prize. But all the titles featured in this exhibition are worth a visit – hence their selection !
In the context of the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic, the Institut français wishes to continue offering you portraits, meetings with creators from all walks of life, works and portfolios. We hope these few pages will bring some breathing space back into an everyday shaped by lockdown.
Pascal Mériaux curated the exhibition “Le renouveau de la BD jeunesse” (“The Revival of Youth Comics”), which is internationally distributed by the Institut français.
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