The French love bandes dessinées — drawn cartoons. We may call them “funnies” in the States, but they take the art form quite seriously here.
Art historians in France recognize and debate the graphic style as the “Ninth Art” — a category that ranks comic drawings along with poetry, architecture, painting, and sculpture.
My first exposure to bandes dessinées (drawn strips) was at the Place De Herbes exhibition.
Thinking it was a book signing drawing a crowd of young and old people, I walked up to the tent set up in the plaza to get a closer look.
Strips of cartoons on single sheets of paper, comic books in soft and hard covers, and colorful posters were stacked in piles on the tables. Hard-bound books with CDs of George Brassens, Jacques Brel, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and other music icons were arranged in neat rows.
Artists were busy selling and signing the books and comic strips to the enthusiastic shoppers.
The artist that got my attention was Jose Correa.
He was seated at the end of one of the long tables, busy signing his work — with gusto. I learned that it was his art that was featured on the poster for the event.
“Ok,” he says to me as I walk to get in line to meet Correa. “I’ll get a poster and have it signed.” “Better yet, ” says me, “I’ll ask him to sign one of his CD books.”
The CD set has music from Jacques Brel, the French singer who became famous during the time of Frank Sinatra. Brel is still a legend in France. The CD book has pages and pages of cartoon drawings by Correa, along with his dialogue on the music.
Owning a CD with a personal message from the artist sparked my curiosity about bandes dessinées. Here’s what I’ve learned.
“Bandes dessinée” is a type of art made famous in France and Belgium in the 19th century. Unlike “comic books,” the subject matter for bandes dessinées was not humorous. The “strips of paper” were more like graphic novels, occasionally penned by famous French artists. The drawings often raised public debate, similar to political cartoons. (See below for reference and more details.)
In the 20th century, the popularity of bandes dessinées proliferated as the drawings appeared in national papers and magazines. The themes were both serious and humorous. Cartoon characters and comic books from America flooded into Europe.
Based on Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Le Journal de Mickey was published in France in 1934.
When War started, the Nazis occupying this part of Europe banned comics that came in from the US. Bandes dessinées artists in France and Belgium picked up the slack and finished many of Superman’s and Flash Gordon’s adventures. Since then, comics from the US have never been as popular with the French — replaced by the work of famous comic artists from around the world.
Some of the cartoon characters known in the US today originated in France.