I love French comics. And European comics. And comics by European authors that aren’t French but still publish in French. Mostly, I love French comics with Animal People.
I don’t know how to read French, and you probably don’t, either, but fortunately we in the States occasionally publish work by French comics artists — but not as often as we should.
In America, we basically only have two types of comics. We have major label comics: the superheroes, zombies and barbarians of Marvel, DC and their “indie” subsidiaries. And we have indie comics, which happen to cover everything that isn’t mythology/sci-fi/fantasy.
And for that reason, indie comics are almost exclusively autobiographical, or thinly veiled autobiography, or stories about lonely people so real everything is basically autobiographical.
We have break-up comics and awkward people comics and childhood comics, but that’s it. That’s where the American indie genre ends.
French comics pick up where American comics leave off. They blend the major label fantasy and indie stylistic sensibilities to create something bizarre and refreshing. Imagine “The Adventures of Tin Tin” with Animal People.
Fantagraphics Books publishes one of my all-time favorites; Jason, short for John Arne Saerterøy. Jason’s animal people inhabit satirical but celebratory genre pieces. In about 50 pages, Jason’s “The Last Musketeer” tells the story of Athos, the last depressed musketeer in the 21st century. A meteor hits Paris, and Martians start invading. Before too long, Athos stows away to Mars to save the Martian princess in order to save Earth from total annihilation.
First Second puts out some fantastic French work, too, including work by Johann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim. I recently read Appollo & Trondheim’s “Bourbon Island 1730.” A young ornithologist (who is also a duck person named Raphael) visits the island to study native fowl under his teacher (a bespectacled, squat dog person named Despentes) and wishes to become a pirate. He soon finds out there is only one true pirate left (a bear person called Buzzard, based on the very real pirate Olivier Levasseur), and the islanders are out to get him.
But these are few examples of the vast register of European comic work. Unbounded by hulking major labels who control all the fantasy needs of audiences, European work can independently produce high fantasy epics (like Sfar & Trodheim’s parodic “Donjon”), mythological retellings and historical fiction. In French.
And sometimes, the characters are animal people, allowing readers to dive into the fantastic without the intimidation of Big & Burly American Super Men and Ripped Supermodel Ladies in Iron Bikinis.
To be fair, the Animal People almost seem more realistic.