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Vintage Color & Design: Franco-Belgian Comics

Vintage Color & Design: Franco-Belgian Comics


The European comic book scene, particularly in France and Belgium, is very different from that of North America. Vintage covers from these popular titles are particularly striking.

Franco-Belgian comics are comics that are created in Belgium and France. These countries have a long tradition in comics and comic books, where they are known as BDs, an abbreviation of bande dessinée (literally drawn strip) in French and stripverhalen (literally strip stories) in Dutch. The Flemish Belgian comic books (originally written in Dutch) are influenced by francophone comics, yet have a distinctly different style. Many other European comics, especially Italian comics, are strongly influenced by Franco-Belgian comics.

40% of Belgium and France share the French language, making them a unique market where national identity is often blurred. Although Switzerland contributes less to the total body of work, it is significant that many scholars point to a Francophone Swiss, Rodolphe Töpffer, as the true father of comics.

Blake and Mortimer

Blake and Mortimer (1946 - ) is a Belgian comics series created by the Belgian writer and comics artist Edgar P. Jacobs. It first appeared serialized in the Belgian comics magazine Tintin from 1946, and was subsequently published in book form by Les Editions du Lombard. It was one of the first series to appear in Tintin magazine.

The main protagonists of the adventures are Philip Mortimer, a leading British scientist, and his friend Captain Francis Blake of MI5. The main antagonist is their sworn enemy, Colonel Olrik, who has appeared in all but one of the books. Their confrontations take them into the realms of detective investigation and science-fiction, dealing with such themes as time travel, Atlantis and espionage.

Gaston

Gaston (1957 - ) is a comic strip created in 1957 by the Belgian cartoonist André Franquin in the comic strip magazine, Spirou. The series focuses on the every-day life of Gaston Lagaffe, a lazy and accident-prone (his surname means "the blunder") office junior. It is very popular in large parts of Europe (especially in Belgium and France), but except for a few pages by Fantagraphics in the early 90s (as Gomer Goof), there is no published English translation.

Astérix

The Adventures of Asterix (Astérix or Astérix le Gaulois) (1959 - ) is a series of French comic strips written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo (Uderzo also took over the job of writing the series after the death of Goscinny in 1977). The series first appeared in French in the magazine Pilote on 29 October 1959. As of 2008, 33 comic books in the series have been released.

The series follows the exploits of a village of ancient Gauls as they resist Roman occupation. They do so by means of a magic potion, brewed by their druid, which gives the recipient superhuman strength. The protagonist, the titular character, Asterix, along with his friend Obelix have various adventures. In many cases, this leads them to travel to various countries around the world, though other books are set in and around their village.

BlueBerry

Blueberry (1963 - )is a Franco-Belgian comics western series created by the Belgian scriptwriter Jean-Michel Charlier and French comics artist Jean "Mœbius" Giraud. It chronicles the adventures of Mike Blueberry on his travels through the American Old West. Blueberry is an atypical western hero, he is not a wandering lawman who brings evil-doers to justice, nor a handsome cowboy who "rides into town, saves the ranch, becomes the new sheriff and marries the schoolmarm."

The story follows Michael Steven Donovan, nicknamed "Blueberry", a name he chose when fleeing from his Southern enemies (which was inspired when he looked at a blueberry bush), starting with his adventures as a lieutenant in the United States Cavalry shortly after the American Civil War. He is accompanied in many tales by his hard-drinking deputy, Jimmy McClure, and later also by Red Woolley, a rugged pioneer.

Donovan is the son of a rich Southern farmer and started as a dedicated racist. He was framed for a murder he did not commit, had to flee and was saved by an African-American. He became an enemy of discrimination of all kinds, fought against the Confederates (although he was a Southerner himself), and tried to protect the rights of Native Americans.

Les Petits Hommes

Les Petits Hommes (1972 - )

Les Cités Obscures

Les Cités Obscures (1983 - ) (English translation Cities of the Fantastic, while fans of the series prefer the more faithful name The Obscure Cities) is a graphic novel series set on a Counter-Earth, started by the Belgian François Schuiten and his friend, writer Benoît Peeters in the early 1980s. In this imaginary world, humans live in independent city-states, each of which has developed a distinct civilization, though all are in some way focused on architecture and architectural styles.

All volumes of the official series are available in most Western European languages, whereas as of 2008 only few of them have been published in English by NBM Publishing. Recently, Editions Flammarion has taken up publication of the series in francophone Canada.

XIII

XIII (Thirteen) (1984 - ) is a Franco-Belgian comics series written and drawn by Belgians Jean Van Hamme and William Vance, revolving around an amnesiac protagonist who seeks to discover his concealed past. With its plot inspired by Robert Ludlum's book The Bourne Identity, XIII was initially serialised in 1984 in Spirou, and was later published by Dargaud. In 2003, the storyline of the first five volumes was adapted into a video game, also titled XIII, that was released on several platforms. A XIII TV miniseries starring Val Kilmer and Stephen Dorff was released in 2008.

Titeuf

Titeuf (1993 - ) is a comics series created by the Swiss comics creator Zep which was adapted into an animated TV series, and appears in the dedicated comics magazine Tchô!.

Titeuf was initially published in the fanzine Sauve qui peut ("Run for your lives") and noticed by Glénat executive Jean-Claude Camano. Zep joined Glénat in 1992 and Titeuf eventually became one of France's most popular comics. The first Titeuf book Dieu, le sexe et les bretelles (God, Sex And Suspenders) appeared in 1993 and sold only a few thousand copies, but the subsequent books gradually won over a colossal readership, and the series is now considered the greatest moneymaker in the French comics market. The series was adapted into an animated TV series in 2001, initially broadcast on Canal J. By 2008, Titeuf was by far the comic series with the largest publication in France, with over 1.8 million copies per year, three times the number of the second most popular series.

Images from bedetheque.com; text adapted from wikipedia. 

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4 Comments
Showing 1 - 4 of 4 Comments

Eugénie

Thanks for this very good article, of course almost all of this comics are very familiar to me. Especially Black et Mortimer, Gaston and Titeuf. I love French-Belgian comics, I read them since childhood.
Titeuf for exemple is very popular for childrens from 8 to 11. Almost every home has an Astérix comic in France, he is very popular and carries lots of French clichés.
If you want to complete I think you should read Tintin et Milou and Spirou et Fantasio, wich are also very popular in France (and I guess in Belgium too).

tenkerasu

I had no actual idea that Tintin was Franco-Belgian - this was a very informing article! I hope most of these will come out in English at some point! :D

meanie

This is exactly why I love this site - thank you so much for reminding me about the fabulous Francois Schuiten and his glorious colour.

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