Bande Dessinee

I am a big fan of European comics or bande dessinee (BD). In fact, at present I would much rather read European comics than their US competitors. Let me try to explain why.

BD is generally characterized by serious and often realistic themes (although there are funny BD), high-quality art, and high production values. The typical BD book is hardbound, full-color and lengthy, compared to US or Japanese serials. In other words, a graphic novel. In France, Belgium and other parts of Europe BD is considered serious art.

Some BD artists and titles have become known in the US: Moebius’ Blueberry and his fantasy art, Canales and Guarnido’s Blacksad, Goscinny and Uderzo's Asterix and Obelix, and of course the most famous of all: Herge’s Tintin. The Steven Spielberg 2011 Tintin movie was obviously a labor of love and replicated the look and feel of the comics wonderfully. But in general European comics are a mystery to US audiences.

On a recent trip to Paris I visited perhaps a dozen excellent comic shops or BD sections in larger book stores, and bought several beautiful examples of BD, which I’d like to share with you. These are not necessarily the most famous or notable examples: they’re just what I saw and loved.

First, Blacksad. I had previously bought the US English versions of two Blacksad novels published by Dark Horse Books. They are amazing works of art. To quote Neal Adams, who wrote the forward to one of these books “…this was an incredible Disney artist who got into his Audi, or Citroen, or Fiat, and decided to drive down his own new road to give us Blacksad”. Unfortunately, a lot of Blacksad material is not available in English, so I bought three French books, and tried to piece together the stories. These illustrate the adventures of John Blacksad, an anthropomorphic panther noir detective, in 1950s Las Vegas, New Orleans and other moody locations. I was first blown away by the art of Blacksad, but the writing is just as good.

Below is an example of the sort of Disney-esque cartooning you can find on every page.

The second BD book I bought is a graphical adaptation of the award-winning novel Le Rapport de Brodeck (Brodeck’s Report). This is the first of two volumes scheduled for publication. Again, I fell in love with the art (because I couldn’t read the text), but subsequently learned more about Philippe Claudel's award-winning book from which the comic was adapted.

This is an art book in every sense of the word! I bought the special edition, with the signed, limited edition book plate and slipcover. Artist Manu Larcenet, who I did not know before buying Brodeck, is a veteran of dozens of BD books. He has a unique and distinctive style of drawing, using a variety of techniques, that lends itself perfectly to the story. Here are a few examples from the front and back of the slipcover.

My third purchase is one of Giraud's (Moebius) many Blueberry books. I found this one for about a US dollar in the basement of a tiny comics shop down a Paris alley. It's older than the others, and the production values are not as high, but has anyone ever drawn comic landscapes as well as Giraud? Here's an example, from the inside cover of the book:

The fourth and final example is Holly Ann: La Chèvre Sans Cornes (the goat without horns), a dark and stylish tale set in New Orleans in the 1800's. This is one in a series of Holly Ann books.

The cover (above) got me interested, but the inside contained the sort of beautiful cartooning that is so common in BD books (see below).

The cover (above) got me interested, but the inside contained the sort of beautiful cartooning that is so common in BD books (see below).

Ivan Thompson, Paris, France.