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Bart Beaty on New Publications About Euro-Comics
posted August 14, 2008

imageBy Bart Beaty

If you want to accuse this one of shameless self-promotion I certainly won't argue with you. But bear with me anyway.

English-language scholarship on French-language comic books is, at best, a pretty thin tradition. David Kunzle's recent books on Rodolphe Topffer are notable exceptions, as are a small but important trickle of books on Herge. Certainly language is an important barrier, but, at the same time, we can note that, in cinema studies, French Poetic Realism of the 1930s and the New Wave of the 1960s are among the most discussed periods even in English-language scholarship. Moreover, there is a lot of work done on the intersection of those moments in French film history with the American cinema, in the legacy of film noir and the cinema brat movement of the 1970s. Sadly, there has been, to date, very little analysis of European comics in the American academy, nor of their influence on American comics (despite how increasingly self-evident that influence is).

Fortunately, this is changing. In June the first issue of a new scholarly journal, European Comic Art, was released by Liverpool University Press. Edited by Laurence Grove, Mark McKinney and Ann Miller, this is the first peer-reviewed print journal on comics to be published since the passing of Inks in 1997, so its arrival marks a signal event in the field that has, mysteriously, been largely uncommented upon in the places where comics scholars tend to hang out. Its lack of attention certainly has nothing to do with the quality of the work within, which features essays by Lance Rickman (on the relationship of 19th century comics to the origins of the cinema), Paul Gravett (on Gianni De Luca), Clare Tufts (on Etienne Davodeau), Matthew Screech (on Edmond Baudoin), and Thierry Groensteen (on his book, The System of Comics), as well as a section of reviews. For those interested in high quality writing on comics from a very different tradition and perspective, I would strongly urge ordering this issue or a subscription to the journal, which will be published twice per year.

(In the interests of total disclosure, I am on the Editorial Board of ECA but played no part in putting together the first issue)

Following quickly on the heels of ECA, the University Press of Mississippi has just released History and Politics in French-Language Comics and Graphic Novels. Edited by Mark McKinney, this book features ten essays, including one of my own (I told you this piece was shameless!) on precisely what the title indicates: history and politics in French-language comics. These essays, which were originally presented at a conference at the University of Miami (Ohio) in 2005, cover a broad range of issues, including representations of racism and colonialism, the depiction of the working class, formal analyses of space and time, and the way that history is constructed by various publishers in different historical eras.

Both of these projects are the results of long years of hard work by a small coterie of scholars (you'll find names like Mark McKinney, Ann Miller, Clare Tufts, and Hugo Frey on both) who are working extremely hard to open lines of communication between differing national comics scenes. My modesty and closeness to both of these projects will keep me from listing all the strengths of these essays, but since both are so far off the traditionally beaten path I did want to bring them to your attention so that you might check them out for yourself.


I don't want to beat this into the ground in message-board fashion, and I appreciate Brad McKay taking the time to respond on behalf of the DWAs. Nonetheless, I think that a few of his points are highly problematic.

imageFirst, the DWAs do promote themselves as a Canadian comics award, when they are not. They are an English-Canadian award. The Giller makes that clear, the Geminis make that clear, but the DWAs muddy this. Their press release from August 9, celebrates "The winners of the 2008 Doug Wright Awards for Canadian Cartooning", noting only at the end the English requirement.

Second, the nominations for Francophone cartoonists are certainly welcome, but I find it embarrassing that Julie Doucet was nominated in 2008 for a book that was published in 2004, Guy Delisle in 2006 for a book published in 2003, and Michel Rabagliati won in 2006 for a book published (by a Canadian publisher no less!) in 2004.

Making these awards representative of the entirety of Canada is just about the simplest thing that the organization could do. Acknowledging Canada's bilingual heritage is the only right thing to do.

I appreciate all the hard work that the organizers have put into promoting these awards, but it would be nice if they could represent the reality of comics production in Canada rather than a fraction of it.


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