Franco-Belgian comics

Franco-Belgian comics
Franco-Belgian comics
Earliest publications 1800s-1920s
Languages French
Related articles
Belgian comics
French comics
Spanish comics

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.[citation needed]

40% of Belgium (Wallonia and a majority of the inhabitants of Brussels) 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[who?] point to a Francophone Swiss, Rodolphe Töpffer, as the true father of comics.[citation needed] This choice is still controversial, with critics asserting that Töpffer's work is not necessarily connected to the creation of the form as it is now known in the region.



The phrase bande dessinée is derived from the original description of the art form as "drawn strips". It is not insignificant that the term contains no indication of subject matter, unlike the American terms "comics" and "funnies", which imply an art form not to be taken seriously. Indeed, the distinction of comics as the "ninth art" is prevalent in Francophone scholarship on the form (le neuvième art), as is the concept of comics criticism and scholarship itself. The "ninth art" designation stems from Morris's article series about the history of comics, which appeared in Spirou from 1964 to 1967.[1] Relative to the respective size of their countries, the innumerable authors in the region publish huge numbers of comic books. In North America, the more serious, Franco-Belgian comics are often seen as equivalent to what is known as graphic novels. But whether they are long or short, bound or in magazine format, in Francophone Europe there is no need for a more sophisticated name than bandes dessinées, as this term does not itself imply something frivolous.


During the 19th century, there were many artists in Europe drawing cartoons, occasionally even utilizing sequential multi-panel narration, albeit mostly with clarifying captions and dialogue placed under the panels, rather than the word balloons commonly used nowadays. These were humoristic short works rarely longer than a single page. Even in the Francophonie, there were artists picking up the trade, such as Gustave Doré, Nadar, Christophe and Caran d'Ache, the latter specialized in pantomime comics, needing no words or dialogue at all. Caran d'Ache also held high aspirations to achieve a longer pantomime story told solely in sequential images, "Maestro", about a child prodigy pianist; an ambitious work which, unfortunately, he died before finishing.

In the early decades of the 20th century, comics were not stand-alone publications, but were published in newspapers and weekly or monthly magazines as episodes or gags. Aside from these magazines, the Catholic Church was creating and distributing "healthy and correct" magazines for the children. In the early 1900s, the first popular French comics appeared, including Bécassine and Les Pieds Nickelés. In 1920, the abbot of Averbode in Belgium started publishing Zonneland, a magazine consisting largely of text with few illustrations, which started publishing comics more often in the following years.

In the 1920s after the end of the first world war, the French artist Alain Saint-Ogan started out as a professional cartoonist, creating the successful series Zig et Puce in 1925. Saint-Ogan was one of the first French-speaking artists to fully utilize techniques popularized and formulaized in USA, such as word balloons.

One of the earliest proper Belgian comics was Hergé's The Adventures of Tintin, with the story Tintin in the Land of the Soviets which was published in Le Petit Vingtième in 1929. It was quite different from how we have come to know Tintin, the style being very naïve and simple, even childish, compared to the later stories. The early stories were often politically incorrect (featuring racist and political stereotypes), in ways Hergé later regretted.

The first nudge towards modern comic books happened in 1934 when Hungarian Paul Winckler (who had previously been distributing comics to the monthly magazines via his Opera Mundi bureau) made a deal with King Features Syndicate to create the Journal de Mickey, a weekly 8-page early "comic-book".

The success was quite immediate, and soon most other publishers started publishing periodicals with American series. This continued during the remainder of the decade, with hundreds of magazines publishing mostly imported material. The most important ones in France were Robinson, Hurrah, and Coeurs Vaillants, while Belgian examples include Wrill and Bravo. In 1938, Spirou was launched. Spirou also appeared translated in a Dutch version under the name Robbedoes for the Flemish market. Export to the Netherlands followed only a few years later.

When Germany invaded France and Belgium, it became close to impossible to import American comics. Likewise, comics of questionable character (in the view of the Nazis) were banned outright. Similarly, American animated movies were forbidden as well. Both were however already very popular before the war and the hardships of the war period only seemed to increase the demand. This created ample opportunity for many young artists to start working in the comics and animation business. At first, authors like Jijé in Spirou and Edgar P. Jacobs in Bravo continued unfinished American stories of Superman and Flash Gordon, and simultaneously by imitating the style and flow of those comics vastly improved their knowledge of how to make efficient comics. But soon even those homemade versions of American comics had to stop, and the authors had to create their own heroes and stories, and new talents got a chance to publish. Many of the most famous artists of the Franco-Belgian comics started in this period, including André Franquin and Peyo who started together at an animation studio, and Willy Vandersteen, Jacques Martin and Albert Uderzo who worked for Bravo.

After the war, the American comics didn't come back in nearly as large numbers as before. In France, the 1949 law about publications destined to the youth was partly oriented by the French Communist Party to exclude most of the American publications, more adult and violent than the classical European ones. Interestingly, a lot of the publishers and artists who had managed to continue working during the occupation were accused of being collaborators and were imprisoned by the resistance, although most were released soon afterwards without charges being pressed.

As an example, this happened to one of the famous magazines, Coeurs Vaillants ("Valiant Hearts"). It was founded by abbot Courtois (under the alias Jacques Coeur) in 1929. As he had the backing of the church, he managed to publish the magazine throughout the war, and was of course charged with being a collaborator. After he was forced out, his successor Pihan (as Jean Vaillant) took up the publishing, moving the magazine in a more humorous direction.

Hergé was another artist to be prosecuted by the resistance. He, as most others, managed to clear his name and went on to create Studio Hergé in 1950, where he acted as a sort of mentor for the students and assistants that it attracted. Among the people who studied there were Bob de Moor, Jacques Martin, Roger Leloup, and Edgar P. Jacobs, all of whom exhibit the easily recognizable Belgian clean line style, often opposed to the "Marcinelle school"-style, mostly proposed by authors from the Spirou magazine, such as Franquin, Peyo and Morris.

Many other magazines did not survive the war: Le Petit Vingtième had disappeared, Le Journal de Mickey only returned in 1952. But in the second half of the 1940s, many new magazines appeared, in most cases only for a few weeks or months though. But things got clearer around 1950, with Spirou and the new magazine Tintin (founded in 1946 with a team focused around Hergé) as the most influential and successful magazines for the next decade.

With a number of publishers in place, including Les Editions Dargaud and Dupuis, two of the biggest influences for over 50 years, the market for domestic comics had reached maturity. In the following decades, magazines like Spirou, Tintin, Vaillant, Pilote, and Heroïc Albums (the first to feature completed stories in each issue, as opposed to the episodic approach of other magazines) would continue to evolve into the style we now know. At this time, the school had already gained fame throughout Europe, and many countries had started importing the comics in addition to—or as substitute for—their own productions.

In the sixties, most of the French Catholic magazines started to wane in popularity, as they were "re-christianized" and went to a more traditional style with more text and fewer drawings. This meant that in France, comics like Pilote and Vaillant gained almost the entire market and became the obvious goal for new artists, who took up the styles prevalent in the magazines to break into the business.

The time after 1968 brought many adult comic books, something previously not seen before. L'Écho des Savanes with Gotlib's crazed delirium of deities watching pornography and Bretécher's Les Frustrés ("The Frustrated Ones") were among the earliest. Le Canard Sauvage ("The Wild Duck"), an art-zine featuring music reviews and comics was another. Métal Hurlant with the far-reaching science fiction and fantasy of Mœbius, Druillet, and Bilal, made an impact in America in its translated edition, Heavy Metal. This trend continued during the seventies, until the original Métal Hurlant folded in the early eighties, living on only in the American edition (which had in the meantime become independent from its French language parent), although some would argue that it is only a shadow of the original.

The eighties showed the adult comics getting somewhat stale, wallowing in sex and violence (examples of which can be seen in Heavy Metal magazines from the period). A major counterexample was the very stylish (À Suivre), publishing comics by Jacques Tardi, Hugo Pratt, François Schuiten and many others, and popularizing the concept of the graphic novel as a longer, more adult, more literate and artistic comic in Europe. A further revival and expansion came in the 1990s with several small independent publishers emerging, such as l'Association, Amok, Fréon (The latter two later merged into Frémok). These comic books are often more artistic (graphically and narratively) and better packaged than the usual products of the big companies.


Before the Second World War, comics were almost exclusively published as tabloid size newspapers. Since 1945, the "album format" gained popularity, a book-like format about half the former size. The comics are almost always hardcover in the French edition and softcover in the Dutch edition, colored all the way through, and, when compared to American comic books and trade paperbacks, rather large (roughly A4 standard).

Comics are often published as collected albums after a story or a convenient number of short stories is finished in the magazine. It is common for those albums to contain 46 or 62 pages of comics. Since the 1980s, many comics are published exclusively as albums and do not appear in the magazines at all, while many magazines have disappeared, including greats like Tintin, À Suivre, Métal Hurlant and Pilote.

Since the 1990s, many of the popular, longer-lasting album series also get their own collected "omnibus" editions, or intégrales, with each intégrale book generally containing between two and four original albums, and often several inédits, material that hasn't been published in albums before, as well.

The album format has also been imported for native comics in many other European countries, as well as being maintained in foreign translations.


While the newer comics don't really fall into the old styles, and have generally evolved into something completely different and the old artists who pioneered the market are getting old and retiring, there are still three distinct styles within the school:

Realistic style

The realistic comics are often laboriously detailed, making the pictures interesting to look at for times on end. An effort is made to make the comics look as convincing, as natural as possible, while still being drawings. No speed lines or exaggerations are used. This effect is often reinforced by the colouring, which is less even, less primary than schematic or comic-dynamic comics. Famous examples are Jerry Spring by Jijé, Blueberry by Giraud, and Thorgal by Rosiński.

"Comic-Dynamic" style

This is the almost Barksian line of Franquin and Uderzo. Pilote is almost exclusively comic-dynamic, and so is Spirou and l'Écho des savanes. These comics have very agitated drawings, often using lines of varying thickness to accent the drawings. The artists working in this style for Spirou, including Franquin, Morris, Jean Roba and Peyo, are often grouped as the Marcinelle school.

Schematic style (Ligne-Claire style)

The major factor in schematic drawings is a reduction of reality to easy, clear lines. Typical is the lack of shadows, the geometrical features, and the realistic proportions. Another trait is the often "slow" drawings, with little to no speed-lines, and strokes that are almost completely even. It is also known as the Belgian clean line style or ligne claire. The Adventures of Tintin is a good example of this. Other works in this style are the early comics of Jijé and the later work from Flemish and Dutch artists like Ever Meulen and Joost Swarte.

Foreign comics

Despite the large number of local publications, the French and Belgian editors release numerous adaptations of comics from all over the world. In particular these include other European publications, from countries such as Italy, with Hugo Pratt and Milo Manara, Spain, with Daniel Torres, and Argentina, with Alberto Breccia, Héctor Germán Oesterheld and José Antonio Muñoz. Some well-known German (Andreas), Swiss (Derib and Cosey) and Polish (Grzegorz Rosinski) authors work almost exclusively for the Franco-Belgian market and publishers.

American and British comic books are not as well represented in the French and Belgian comics market, probably due to the differences in comic traditions between these countries, although the work of Will Eisner is highly respected. However, a few comic strips like Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes have had considerable success in France and Belgium.

Japanese manga has been receiving more attention since 2000. Recently, more manga has been translated and published, with a particular emphasis on independent authors like Jiro Taniguchi. In addition, in an attempt to unify the Franco-Belgian and Japanese schools, cartoonist Frédéric Boilet started the movement La nouvelle manga. Manga now represents more than one fourth of comics sales in France.[2]


There are many comics conventions in Belgium and France. The most famous is probably the Angoulême International Comics Festival, an annual festival begun in 1974, in Angoulême, France.

Typical for conventions are the expositions of original art, the sign sessions with authors, sale of small press and fanzines, an awards ceremony, and other comics related activities. Also, some artists from other counties travel to Angoulême and other festivals to show their work and meet their fans and editors.

Impact and popularity

Franco-Belgian comics have been translated in most European languages, with some of them enjoying a worldwide success. Some magazines have been translated in Italian and Spanish, while in other cases foreign magazines were filled with the best of the Franco-Belgian comics. The greatest and most enduring success however was mainly for some series started in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960 (including Lucky Luke, The Smurfs, and Asterix), and of course the even older Tintin, while many more recent series have not made a significant commercial impact outside the French and Dutch speaking countries, despite the critical acclaim for authors like Moebius. In France and Belgium, most magazines have disappeared or have a largely reduced circulation, but the number of published and sold albums stays very high, with the biggest successes still on the juvenile and adolescent markets.

Notable comics

While hundreds of comic series have been produced in the Franco-Belgian group, some are more notable than others. Most of those listed are aimed at the juvenile or adolescent markets:

See also


  1. ^ Dierick, Charles (in Dutch). Het Belgisch Centrum van het Beeldverhaal. Brussels: Dexia Bank / La Renaissance du Livre. p. 11. ISBN 2-8046-0449-7. 
  2. ^ "Bilan 2009". ACBD. December 2009. Retrieved 6 January 2010. [dead link]

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