TOP 20

FRENCH

COMICS

This list was put together with the help of an informal group of fifteen artists, writers, editors and fans. It is meant to provide the English-speaking reader unfamiliar with French-language comics (No Hugo Pratt, no Joost Swarte) with a fairly undisputed list of modern "classics".

Not everyone listed exactly the same books, but generally the books that made it here were included in the majority of the lists. Artistic criteria were, of course, paramount in the selection; but also importance, influence and recognition played a role.

Clearly, the individual rankings varied from person to person. At that level of talent, however, whether a graphic novel ranks #8 or #4 is a matter of individual taste. Also, the selection of an individual book in an otherwise brilliant series is, to some extent, abitrary. There are other Asterix, Tintin or Blueberry books equally worthy of consideration.

Finally, we have provided a series of links to help those seeking additional information about these series and/or authors. To buy these books in English (when such editions exist), try Bud Plant Comic Art or Mars Import. To buy them in French, order from the French equivalent of amazon.com, FNAC.

above: Barbarella by J.-C. Forest.


20

YVES CHALAND - BOB FISH (1981). NO ENGLISH EDITION. (A few stories translated in "Heavy Metal".)

Yves Chaland burst onto the French comics scene by appropriating and adapting the "clear line" (as it became known) style of Herge, Jacobs and Jije, and using it in a series of perfectly-designed, joyously nostalgic homages to the classic comics of the 1950s. His Freddy Lombard series is a trifle more conventional, but his almost sadistic satire of the 1950s comics truly shines in his Bob Fish & Young Albert books.

FRENCH PUBLISHER'S SITE


19

MAURICE TILLIEUX - GIL JOURDAN - VOL. 3: LA VOITURE IMMERGEE (1959). NO ENGLISH EDITION.

Prolific writer-artist Maurice Tillieux drew the adventures of his unflappable detective Gil Jourdan in a classic, seemingly harmless cartoony style. Yet Tillieux revolutionized Belgian comics by doing serious, often very caustic adult stories, and visually introduced a never-seen-before gamut of cinematic tricks such as silent panels, dynamic compositions, incredible car crashes and action scenes.



18

PIERRE CHRISTIN & JEAN-CLAUDE MEZIERES - VALERIAN - VOL. 9: METRO CHATELET DIRECTION CASSIOPEE (1980). NO ENGLISH EDITION. (Three other titles translated by Dargaud Publishing sold through NBM.)

Valerian
is the science fiction comics series per excellence. Writer Pierre Christin's intricate and literate stories, and his endearing characters, are matched by artist Jean-Claude Mezieres' coolly elegant, imaginative and always detailed visuals. Valerian is never splashy, the art never drawing attention to itself; yet, it is always beautiful, effective and truly a window on an undreamed of universe.

COOL FRENCH COMIX PAGE


17

PHILIPPE DRUILLET - LONE SLOANE - VOL. 2: LES SIX VOYAGES DE LONE SLOANE (1970). ENGLISH ED.: THE SIX VOYAGES OF LONE SLOANE (NBM).

More of an illustrator than a traditional comic book artist, Philippe Druillet nevertheless revolutionized comics by not only translating the literary influences of authors such as Lovecraft, Moorcock, etc. into visual terms, but also by showing new ways to design pages, with full bleed, breaking traditional panel borders, etc . Comics were never the same after Druillet.

COOL FRENCH COMIX PAGE


16

SERGE LETENDRE & REGIS LOISEL - LA QUETE DE L'OISEAU DU TEMPS - VOL. 3: LE RIGE (1985). ENGLISH ED.: ROXANNA - THE RIGE (NBM).

Writer Serge Letendre and artist Regis Loisel combined forces in the early 1980s to produce a four-volume heroic fantasy saga -- a genre heretofore virtually unexplored in French comics -- entitled The Quest for the Bird of Time. Its enormous popular success, due in great part to Loisel's rich, sensuous style, made heroic fantasy the new "hot" genre of French comics.

FRENCH PUBLISHER'S SITE


15

MAX CABANES - COLIN-MAILLARD (1989). ENGLISH ED.: HEARTTHROBS (Catalan).

After having crafted a remarkable rural high-fantasy series, Max Cabanes decided to produce the French comics equivalent of American Graffiti with a series of beautifully-rendered, exquisitely colored, bittersweet stories of French youth, sexual awakening and rock & roll in a small provincial town in the 1950s.

BELGIAN PUBLISHER'S SITE


14

DANIEL GOOSSENS - LA VIE D'EINSTEIN VOL. 1: ENFANCE (1980). NO ENGLISH EDITION. (A few stories translated as "Sergeant Claus" in "French Ticklers" by Kitchen Sink.)

The other artists' favorite artist. Daniel Goossens' consummate b&w skills and his brilliant storytelling make him a favorite of his peers. His own peculiar brand of humor, relying on vitriol-soaked satire, the deconstruction of cliches and rambling nonsense is too much of an acquired taste to be truly commercial. Yet his name invariably shows up in everyone's "best of" lists.

FRENCH PUBLISHER'S SITE


13

JOSEPH GILLAIN, a.k.a. JIJE - LIFE ACHIEVEMENT. (ALMOST) NO ENGLISH EDITION.

This man's life is his masterpiece: A fine art painter, a master story-teller and a prodigiously gifted artist, Jijé rescued Spirou -- both the character and the magazine -- from artistic oblivion. He passed the baton to Franquin and trained Giraud-Moebius. His series include the western classic Jerry Spring, the humoristic Blondin & Cirage, the daring Jean Valhardi and the air adventures of Tanguy & Laverdure (one annual published in the UK in '72).

BELGIAN PUBLISHER'S SITE


12

JEROME CHARYN & FRANCOIS BOUCQ - LA FEMME DU MAGICIEN (1986). ENGLISH ED.: THE MAGICIAN'S WIFE (Catalan).

Francois Boucq rose to artistic prominence with this award-winning graphic novel, penned by American crime writer Jerome Charyn. The dream-like quality of the story was perfectly complemented by Boucq's unrivalled ability to portray the world in grotesque, often visually aggressive and yet emotionally moving touches.

BELGIAN PUBLISHER'S SITE


11

FRANCOIS BOURGEON - LES PASSAGERS DU VENT - VOL. 3: LE COMPTOIR DE JUDA (1979-84). NO ENGLISH EDITION.

This five-volume series depicts the journeys of an 18th century girl from the stormy coasts of Europe to Africa and then to the New World. It helped single-handedly launch the sub-genre of historical comics in France. Writer-artist Francois Bourgeon mixed history, politics and slavery in an impeccably documented saga, illustrated in a beautifully rendered realistic style.

FRENCH PUBLISHER'S SITE


 10

 

ENKI BILAL - THE NIKOPOL TRILOGY - VOL. 1: LA FOIRE AUX IMMORTELS (1980). ENGLISH ED.: GODS IN CHAOS (Catalan).

No other artist captured the spirit of the 1980s as well as Yugoslav expatriate Enki Bilal. After producing a series of brilliant graphic novels with writer Pierre Christin, Bilal embarked on his own series, a trilogy featuring a nihilistic mix of decadent gods and beautiful white faced, blue haired women cavorting in a crumbling futuristic world.

AUTHOR'S SITE


9

(tie)

JACQUES TARDI - ADELE BLANC-SEC - VOL. 2: LE DEMON DE LA TOUR EIFFEL (1976). ENGLISH ED.: THE DEMON OF THE EIFFEL TOWER (NBM).

JEAN-CLAUDE FOREST & JACQUES TARDI - ICI MEME (1978). NO ENGLISH EDITION.

A tie: Master of b&w art in the tradition of Caniff, Jije and Pratt, Tardi mixed nostalgia with his own anarchistic ideas to throw a new light on the history of the century and merged comics with literature. Some may prefer his ambitious Ici Meme (written by Forest), a surreal graphic novel which begins with the plight of a man forced to live on top of walls, and ends as a scathing satire of society. Others may nominate his epic tale of the War of the Trenches, or the film noir adventures of tough private eye Nestor Burma. But a well-deserved popular success came to Tardi with his Adele Blanc-Sec series, about a daring female monster-chaser of the French Belle Epoque. The Adele Blanc-Sec saga combines every facet of Tardi's immense talent.

COOL FRENCH COMIX PAGE


8

JEAN-CLAUDE FOREST - LA JONQUE FANTOME VUE DE L'ORCHESTRE (1981). NO ENGLISH EDITION.

Jean-Claude Forest revolutionised French comics for the first time in 1962 with Barbarella, the first adult graphic novel ever. But for sheer artistry, nothing can compare with The Phantom Junk, a superb and surreal story that is about love, war, illusion, magic and dreams. Drawn in a style reminiscent of Gustave Dore, it stands alone as one of the best single works ever produced in the medium.

AUTHOR'S SITE 


7

 

MARCEL GOTLIB - RUBRIQUE-A-BRAC (VOL. 4) (1968-72). NO ENGLISH EDITION.

This series of b&w 2-page humoristic strips by French cartoonist Marcel Gotlib came to embody the ground-breaking spirit of "Pilote" in the early '70s. Sometimes bittersweet, often absurd, always hilarious, Gotlib (who also co-founded both "L'Echo des Savanes" and "Fluide Glacial") and his cutting edge work paved the way for the next generation of humor artists.

FRENCH PUBLISHER'S SITE


6

 

RENE GOSCINNY & ALBERT UDERZO - ASTERIX - VOL. 10: ASTERIX LEGIONNAIRE (1967). ENGLISH ED.: ASTERIX LEGIONARY (Hodder Dargaud).

The huge success of Asterix has somehow occulted the fact that Rene Goscinny is a brilliant comedic writer -- perhaps the best ever in French comics -- and that Albert Uderzo is an equally brilliant artist, at ease with any type of scenes. Selecting one Asterix book in the ten-year period period that ranges from Le Tour de Gaule to Le Cadeau de Cesar is virtually impossible. Legionnaire made it on the strength of its plot and characterization.

AUTHORS' SITE


5

 

EDGAR PIERRE JACOBS - BLAKE & MORTIMER - VOL. 3: LA MARQUE JAUNE (1956). ENGLISH ED.: THE YELLOW M (Blake & Mortimer Editions); two other titles translated by Catalan.

This lovingly detailed series of science fiction stories were crafted by writer-artist Jacobs, a colleague of Herge. Mixing the Belgian taste for the fantastic and a romantic image of England, Blake & Mortimer were drawn in a clear line style that later influenced a generation of younger artists. The images of fog-shrouded London and the masked super-villain known only as the Yellow Mark have become permanent fixtures of French comics.

COOL FRENCH COMIX PAGE


4

 

J.-M. CHARLIER & JEAN GIRAUD - BLUEBERRY - VOL. 18: NEZ CASSE (1979). ENGLISH ED.: BROKEN NOSE (in BLUEBERRY 3 ANGEL FACE, Marvel/Epic).

More than a mere western comics, Blueberry transcends the genre of adventure comics. This underdog hero is one of few characters to actually age throughout the series. Giraud's superb art and Charlier's between-the-cracks-of-history approach confers to this saga an unparalleled realistic atmosphere. While the two-volume Lost Dutchman's Mine classic has its fans, Giraud's brush work truly shines in this tale of Blueberry living among the Apaches.

LINK REMOVED


3

MOEBIUS - LE GARAGE HERMETIQUE - VOL 2: MAJOR FATAL (1979). ENGLISH ED.: THE AIRTIGHT GARAGE (Marvel/Epic).

Moebius
' Airtight Garage saga was the first post-modernist comic to incorporate a stream of consciousness narrative with modern science fiction concepts. It broke through virtually every rule of the medium, and became the most prominent book associated with the French magazine "Métal Hurlant" which Moebius co-founded and which reshaped the world of comics. Visually, it was such a tour de force that it influenced virtually every artist that followed in that vein.

LINK REMOVED


2

(tie)

 

GREG & ANDRE FRANQUIN (with Jidehem) -
SPIROU & FANTASIO - VOL. 15: Z COMME ZORGLUB (1960).
ENGLISH ED.: Z AS IN ZORGLUB (Fantasy Flight Publ.).

ANDRE FRANQUIN - GASTON - VOL. 9: LE CAS LAGAFFE (1971). NO ENGLISH EDITION. (A few stories translated as "Gomer Goof" by Fantagraphics.)

A tie: Spirou -- always a high mark of Belgian comics -- reached a pinnacle in the early 1960s.  Artist Franquin's brilliantly manic style had already affected an entire generation of artists when it found its perfect match in Greg's colorful characters and inventive situations. The most fondly remembered title of that golden period features the lovable mad scientist Zorglub and his goofy attempts to take over the world. Gaston, Franquin's own creation, started as a back-up series in Spirou's magazine, but eventually became a huge best-seller, far outselling Spirou. The hilarious and frankly surreal antics of this wonderful office goof (and his colorful menagerie) touched a common chord in all of us.




1

HERGE - TINTIN - VOL. 20 : TINTIN AU TIBET (1958). ENGLISH ED.: TINTIN IN TIBET (Atlantic Little Brown).

Arguably the best graphic novel ever drawn. All of Belgian writer-artist Herge's Tintin books, from The Blue Lotus onward, are classics of their kind. Some may even be more epic: the two-book sagas of The Temple of the Sun or Explorers on the Moon are more far-reaching in scope. But none beat Tintin in Tibet for the sheer human emotion evoked by Tintin's desperate quest to find his friend, Tchang, lost after a plane crash in Tibet. 

AUTHOR'S SITE