A sophisticated account of the evolving role of comics in recent French history
In France, Belgium, and other Francophone
countries, comic strips--called
bande dessinée or "BD" in French--
have long been considered a major art
form capable of addressing a host of
contemporary issues. Among Frenchspeaking
intelligentsia, graphic narratives
were deemed worthy of canonization and critical study decades
before the academy and the press in the United States embraced comics.
The place that BD holds today, however, belies the contentious political
route the art form has traveled. In Drawing France: French Comics
and the Republic, author Joel E. Vessels examines the trek of BD from its
being considered a fomenter of rebellion, to a medium suitable only for
semi-literates, to an impediment to education, and most recently to an
art capable of addressing social concerns in mainstream culture.
In the mid-1800s, alarmists feared political caricatures might incite
the ire of an illiterate working class. To counter this notion, proponents
yoked the art to a particular articulation of "Frenchness" based on
literacy and reason. With the post-World War II economic upswing,
French consumers saw BD as a way to navigate the changes brought by
modernization. After bande dessinée came to be understood as a compass
for the masses, the government, especially François Mitterand's
administration, brought comics increasingly into "official" culture. Vessels
argues that BD are central to the formation of France's self-image
and a self-awareness of what it means to be French.
Joel E. Vessels, Astoria, New York, is instructor of history at
Nassau Community College. His work has appeared in International
Journal of Comic Art and Contemporary French Civilization.
304 pages (approx.), 6 x 9 inches, 29 b&w illustrations, bibliography, index