Robot 6

The rise and fall and rise of L’Association, the French comics supergroup

The artists of L'Association in 1991, seated from left: Mattt Konture, Killoffer, Stanislas, Lewis Trondheim, Jean-Christophe Menu, David B., Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian

The artists of L'Association in 1991, seated from left: Mattt Konture, Killoffer, Stanislas, Lewis Trondheim, Jean-Christophe Menu, David B., Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian

What if the Image Seven were Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Chester Brown and so on, instead of dudes who made their bones drawing Spider-Man and Wolverine? The result would probably look a lot like L’Association.

Founded in 1991 by French alternative-comics titans David B., Killoffer, Mattt Konture, Jean-Christophe Menu, Mokeït, Stanislas, and Lewis Trondheim, L’Association was formed as a response to the lack of opportunity for avant-garde comics provided by France’s mainstream comics publishers. But L’Asso quickly became a sales forced to be reckoned with on its own, thanks in large part to its breakout hit, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Over the years, the publisher’s lineup took on “everybody who’s anybody” proportions in the Francophone comics world, with Julie Doucet, Joann Sfar, Blutch, Dupuy & Berberian, Emmanuel Guibert, and Guy Delisle all releasing work through the collective.

But as was the case here in the States with the makers of Spawn, Youngblood, WildC.A.T.s et al, L’Asso became a house divided. A combination of personal rivalries, diverging interests, and outside opportunities elsewhere soon saw the seven founders go their separate ways, leaving Jean-Christophe Menu as the publisher’s head honcho. What happened next — hidden financial records, unexpected layoffs, an employee strike, accusations of alcoholism and paranoia, tumultuous meetings involving hundreds of people, and a team-up between the departed founders to wrest control of their former company away from Menu’s allegedly dictatorial hands — became the stuff of comics legend.

Now the Comics Journal’s Matthias Wivel is telling the story of the L’Asso War — and getting participants on both sides on the record. In part one of his fascinating report, he takes us from the founding of the group to the eve of the company-wide strike in protest of Menu-directed layoffs that rocked Angoulême, France’s biggest comic con. In part two, he chronicles the strike and the resulting legal wranglings and wild-sounding general assembly meetings that eventually led to the co-founders’ return and Menu (and Satrapi)’s departure. Filled with juicy quotes from Menu, Trondheim, David B. and other leading players, the whole sordid saga reads like a movie, or more appropriately a comic, which, thanks to a team of cartoonists led by Trondheim, it’s about to become. Take a break and read the whole thing — it’s one of the most compelling collisions of art, commerce, and clashing cartoonists that comics on either side of the Atlantic has ever seen.

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