Recently, we looked at the underrepresented world of African Comics, so now we’re heading north into a certain part of Europe. With the upcoming Valerian film — based on the comic that gave life to sci-fi classics like Star Wars and The Fifth Element — set to hit cinemas in July next year, it is time to take a closer look at the inspiring but blocked picture books.
In recent years, translations of comics from the French-speaking parts of Europe have come overseas. This year’s San Diego Comic-Con highlighted the publisher Europe Comics with panels and a booth just for the occasion. Known as Bande Dessinée in French and Stripverhalen in Dutch, these comics take themselves a little more seriously than other decades-old comics. Just the name of ‘drawn strip’ means that these pages are meant to be more than just funny.
Comics Are Art
Unlike most comics that put more focus on a page, Bande Dessinée makes use of every panel. Every piece plays some importance, making them look natural, using varying degrees of line thickness, and even details. In France, comics are considered the ninth art form. So, rather than the implication of some humorous component with the English term “comic”, Bande Dessinee is treated as an artistic expression. This means that there is much more freedom in creativity compared to comics from, say, the U.S. that are more subject to their editor’s will.
While a majority of the more popular comics known throughout Europe have not made it overseas, several publishers have made their mark since opening doors in 2015.
The Split Bande Dessinée Divisions
The best-known publisher stateside is Delcourt and its partner Soleil. Delcourt is the third largest comic company in Paris, publishing original content and licensed comics. Genres vary, but there are almost always adventures with high stakes in them, including political spy thrillers, creepy stories, epic fantasies, historic tales, personal relationships, and space operas. One series of interest is Promethee, a sci-fi thriller that involves missing spaceships that reappear whenever a clock displays ’13’.
For nostalgia’s sake, there’s Cinebook publishing. Many people have heard of titles like Lucky Luke but never read much. The UK-based comic company publishes translated Bande Dessinée from works by Média-Participations divisions like Dupois. Strangely, most of the stories Cinebook publishes on digital media deal more with the United States in various points in time. There are even stories that deal with Caribbean pirates and outer space.
The Modern Day
The company (redundantly) known as Europe Comics are the company publishing the remaining volumes of Valerian. It’s really all part of the plan: gather a bunch of publishers together and make a big hot mess. But this hot mess is digital and available everywhere. The company’s catalog includes Jean Dufaux works such as Djinn and Murena. Recently, Europe Comics made themselves known at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic-Con with a booth, panels, and signings. Their Comic-Con visits weren’t just to bring more nostalgia fuel but original content like the Akira-inspired Harmony and the mysteries of Water Memory. It’s not independence people want out of these stories; it’s the strive for identity. Valerian getting a movie after 50 years is a sign of this shift.
Other Bande Dessinée
Humanoids Publishing is the major bande dessinée competitor. Initially a sci-fi focused publishing house, Humanoids Publishing mainly dealt with Metal Hurlant, the Metaverse (Incal), and a few other classics. One of these classics is Barbarella, the comic that kickstarted the sexual revolution, and a more coherent cult classic movie. Fantasy and history bande dessinée were also part of the company’s collection.
Another major player is Glénat, a publisher best known for the Smurfs and The Little Prince graphic novels. Of course, they also had adaptations from different countries as well. Stateside, they hold historical and fantastical stories.
Other publishers include lagging Akileos and Darguard. Ankama Editions might look like a Japanese rip-off show, but its focus on gaming doesn’t hold it down. There are even some stories that are so far available only in French like the fairy tale-inspired comic Radiant.
For stories that aren’t offshoots of French companies, take a look at Magnetic Press. This publisher takes in graphic novels from around the world such as The Love franchise featuring the lives of a fox, a tiger, a lion, and a T-Rex!
For years, these publishers have basked in the limelight of their home countries, and now, with borders and language barriers gradually breaking down, they get a chance to be enjoyed by everyone.