Saturday, April 12, 2008

Like Everything Else, Those Dastardly French Raise Comics to Fine Art

Heather McDougal over at Cabinet of Wonders, has a wonderful (pardon the redundant pun) post up about the joys of French comics:

For a number of years now, I have gone to France as often as I and my family can afford, and each time we make a pilgrimage to a particular store in St. Michel that sells literally thousands of these kinds of comic books, along with videos, manga, and other things. Imagine going into a shop that rises up on several levels, with at least two of them literally solid with the spines of comic book albums. Every book on the shelves is large format, beautifully printed, and relatively reasonably priced (considering you can get ten or twenty years out of them; the terrible bindings I've been finding on modern American softcover graphic novels only last a few months in the hands of enthusiastic readers before they start giving up their pages like moulting birds). We always choose two or three books to buy. They have to be readable in our lame high-school French, and at least one of them has to be readable to my daughters, because we can only fit a couple in our luggage. But they're worth it.


Sigh, indeed.

Oh, comics. Despite your constant reappraising by pop culture, the true depth of your potential as an artistic medium is constantly overlooked. Except perhaps, in France, where artistic endeavors are held in slightly higher regard than in the Colonies.

Case in point, Ordinary Victories by Manu Larcenet. If Bill Waterson were to write the great American graphic novel, it would probably look a lot like this. It is pure genius, better in many ways than most celebrated novels I've read, to say nothing of comics. It should be a best seller among mainstream readers. But it is a comic, and it is hard for Americans to over come that stigma. Larcenet melds traditional western visual storytelling with lessons from Manga effortlessly, coming up with something that has the Zen-like beauty of the best Calvin & Hobbes sunday strips.

Seriously, I have comics picked out to help my kids learn to read, to help them adjust to adolescence, etc. This is the comic I will give them when they graduate college. This is the "OK, you're an adult now, welcome the real world" comic, with all the freedom, joy, numbness, and true existential angst (as opposed to adolescent poseur angst) that entails.

Sigh, indeed.

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