Comics / European Comics

European Comics You Should Read

By Patrick Bérubé
March 31, 2009 - 09:07

European comic book have enjoyed what we could call a surge in popularity in recent years. Even if only a fraction of what is published in Europe is translated for the American market many titles are now available. Publishers like NBM and First Second have whole lines dedicated to the genre and even mainstream publishers like Marvel Comics and Devil's Due Publishings are following the trend. Since some of us at The Comic Book Bin are clearly addicted to anything coming from the old continent we thought that we would suggest you what we particularly appreciate.

Beth : Elite comics publisher NBM has pioneered the art of bringing excellent European comics in translation to North American readers, not least by publishing the hysterically funny Dungeon series by Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar. Dungeon features twisted and endlessly inventive stories featuring a cast of funny animals adventuring through a vaguely medieval world of castles, magicians, and swordsmen. The stories will appeal to any reader 9 and up, with plenty of laffs for the grown-ups, too. The art, detailed and sophisticated, is even funnier than the stories and the gags. Dungeon rewards numerous re-reads: a strong reason to spend some of that increasingly scarce money and collect them all. At $12.95 per 96-page full-color issue, it will feel like a steal.

NBM has also committed an act of pure genius by teaming with the Louvre to publish a series of graphic novels by some enfants terribles of the international comics scene. If your funny bone gets tickled when art snobs get lampooned, then by all means check out these Louvre co-editions. Glacial Period by Nicolas De Crécy and The Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert by Marc-Antoine Mathieu have already gone into second and third printings.

Next up in the Louvre co-edition series is Eric Liberge's At Odd Hours, which promises a departure from the parody of the first two instalments. Liberge may dare to suggest that art can change your life.

The series, originally slated to run four volumes, has already expanded to five. And I hope we'll enjoy a few more extensions before it is done. Again, these volumes reward regular re-reads, and are worth their very modest price of US$14.95.

Leroy: My recommendations offer both realism and surrealism. First the realism: I give a hardy recommendation to Aya by writer Marguerite Abouet and artist Clément Oubrerie (English-language edition published by Drawn & Quarterly, 2007.) A hardcover, full-color graphic novel, Aya is set in the Ivory Coast in 1978 and tells the story of the studious Aya and her easy-going friends. This humorous tale presents a side of Africa we rarely see – spirited and hopeful. Basically, this is a family drama that depicts Africans as people enjoying the pleasures of life and dealing with their own private troubles. This wonderful tale offers us a colorful cast of characters that engages the reader with their funny ways. D&Q published a second Aya volume in 2008.

The second recommendation (the surreal) is Cinema Panopticum, a collection of haunting, short stories by Swiss cartoonist Thomas Ott, a master of dark fantasy and horror comix. Fantagraphics Books published an English-language edition a few years ago (104pp, $18.95, ISBN: 978-1-56097-649-3) that reminded me of The Sandman: Endless Nights. In fact, anyone who enjoyed that book will definitely want Cinema Panopticum because Ott is closest in tone to creating the kind of comic book stories Neil Gaiman did.

Hervé: I propose any books from what I call the auto-biographical school of European comics. In particular, I'll suggest Manu Larcenet's Ordinary Victories. Cartoonists such as Larcenet, Lewis Trondheim, Christophe Blain and Joann Sfar create books that will appeal to readers of Fantagraphics, Top Shelf, Oni Press and Drawn & Quarterly. Like many North American comic books, they often use more modern narrative structures in their comic books. For example, they do away with thought bubbles. The tone of their stories is simple and more realist. There are no elaborate way of communicating with their readers, but won't deceive with their challenging stories.

Visually, their work can often be described as chicken scratches and weak cartoony styles. Much like the Charleroi School from Belgium 40 years ago, their visual style is not realist at all. But unlike the Charleroi School (the Smurfs, Spirou), the cartoony style is used in a realist context with very mature stories.

Looking at Larcenet's Ordinary Victories, we have a dwarf-like character, whose cartoony depiction hides his real age. Yet the story, almost auto-biographical, is filled retrospection and lots of narration by an omni-present narrator. The books of most of the books and artists named above can be found at NBM Publishing or First Second Books in English.

Patrick B: Europe has a lot of really great creators but you should definitely be on the lookout for any books that will come out with the name Tardi on it. He was never really reprinted here in America but he will soon be since Fantagraphic announced recently that they would do so. Tardi is a master cartoonist and has worked in the field for a couple of decades and on a variety of genre. The first title that should come out his '' Le petit bleu de la côte ouest'' and is a detective story. He is also well know for his work on the first World War and French history. His style was clearly influenced by the Belgian's ligne claire but it has a modern twist to it.

My next suggestion would either be Isaac the Pirate (NBM) or Gus by Christophe Blain (First Second). Blain is still a relative newcomer to the french nouvelle bande-dessinée movement but shows a lot of talent. His minimalist style his dynamic and since he rarely re-draw a panel there is an honesty in his work that I appreciate. Isaac the Pirate won the best comic book (or Album if you prefer...) at Angoulême in 2002. So far NBM has translated two volumes (so four French volumes) of Isaac and First Second has translated the first volume of Gus but I'm sure there is more to come.

Last Updated: January 24, 2022 - 11:00

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