Soleil Productions is first and foremost the initiative of Mourad Boudjellal. Born in southern France in a family with a very low income he discovers comic books early in his life. He is still the owner of Soleil and the company's public figure.
It's in 1982 that the Soleil adventure begins with the opening of a book store (specializing in comic books) and the publication of some youth oriented comic books. A decade later, Soleil acquires the rights to publish classic material such as Rahan, Mandrake the Magician, Tarzan and The Phantom. Strong with these success, the then small publisher started encouraging local talents to produce comic books of an increasingly popular genre at the time on the European market: fantasy (or heroic fantasy as the French like to call it...).
Two of these young talents, Christophe Arleston and Didier Tarquin, will be instrumental in the success of Soleil by creating Lanfeust de Troy in 1994. The series is considered a landmark for the company since it has sold millions of copies and inspired many spin-off. In 1998, Soleil even created a magazine called Lanfeust Mag to pre-publish many of his most popular series. Arleston also created other titles such as Morea and Les naufragés d'Ythaq (translated by Marvel Comics) for the publishers. Many of his series are considered the back-bone of Soleil's catalog.
Far from resting after such success, the publisher expanded into other genres by the end of the 90's and early into the 21stcentury. Mainly focusing on history and science-fiction, many other titles started to appear. Even if many series published by Soleil are visually inspired by Manga, it's only in 2006 that they started publishing translated material. Even so they did it by strategic choice and not by a genuine love of the product. Mourad Boudjellal always made it clear that he preferred to deal with creators than to merely translate a product and reselling it on the European market and it shows. If compared to other major publishers, Soleil's catalog is a lot less dependant from foreign translation deals.
In 2006, Soleil Productions was the third biggest comic publisher in Europe with an estimated 40 millions euros income and is now one of Toulon's biggest private employer.
But even with this success, Soleil has always been a bit controversial. Many deem the publisher too ''commercial'' and ''without intellectual and/or artistic aspiration'' and in a sense they are basically right since everything they publish is first and foremost for entertainment purpose AND aimed at teenagers and young (male) adults. Many of their heroines are scantily clad women and or are just dumb blonde like in the misogynistic ''Les Blondes'' comic book. Even if they make a lot of efforts they can hardly change the perception that they mainly publish fantasy-oriented comic books. There marketing strategies are also sometimes controversial, such as when they invite public personalities to appear at their booths at conventions. These personalities sometime don't even have any links to comic books; they just draw a crowd. This might be common practice in North America, but in Europe, it is not the case and many are not pleased to see the spotlight turned away from the books to follow a publicity stunt.
Soleil has been translated in North America by Marvel Comics. You can find a review of Sky-Doll here and reviews of Samurai here and here.