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.
Publishing| Joe Keatinge and Frank Cho have signed a three-book deal with Delcourt, a comics publisher in France. The first book of theirs Delcourt will publish will be the first volume of Brutal, which will debut at the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d’Angouleme 2013. Delcourt publishes many American comics in France, including Walking Dead, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Invincible, Rocketeer, Hellboy, The Goon, Haunt and many more, as well as many manga titles.
“On a personal level, French comics have had a huge influence on me. Working within that industry is something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I wanted a career in comics at all. Being an author with a book debuting at Angouleme is a goal I thought was many a year away, so this has taken things to a whole new level much sooner than anticipated. While I do plan on going back in 2012, this still gives me a year to work on my awful command of the language before I have to do a signing. Being in the good hands of Delcourt makes me think it’s a good start,” Keatinge said. [Joe Keatinge]
The French love to complain that anything that isn’t French is ruining their culture, so the manga boom (it’s huge over there, and for pretty much the same reasons it was a hit over here) occasioned much tut-tutting when it was still fresh. Uderzo, the illustrator of the venerable Astérix, even made a comic in which his characters were attacked by foreign creatures called “Nagma,” a fairly transparent acronym. But complain as he might, as this 2006 article attests, the kids were gobbling up InuYasha, while “Visitors clustered around the Asterix booth nearby were mostly men over 40.”
Last week, France Today took a fresh look at the French-language comics scene (many well known BDs are actually by Belgian and Swiss creators) and presented a different take on the influence of manga. Most of the biggest sellers—Tintin, Astérix, Blake and Mortimer—are over 50 years old, and their sales have been slipping for some time.
The lesson, says Xavier Guilbert, editor-in-chief of the comics website du9.org, seems to be clear: their age is beginning to show. “It’s reasonable to think that the stalwarts of the comic books market might not resonate as much with the younger generation today,” as he puts it.
What the success of manga over the last decade has done, says Guilbert, is not so much push out traditional BD as distract French publishers from the falling sales they were seeing in their existing stables anyway. “They went after manga and forgot to develop their own catalogs,” he argues. That’s a problem now, because with most of the successful Japanese titles now translated into French, manga sales have started to slow.
The France Today article does miss another point, made in the earlier piece, that manga are more inviting for girls. BDs tend to be guy comics, with mostly male characters doing things that guys like to read about, and that’s fine, but it leaves half the potential audience with few choices. If there is a BD renaissance, it would be nice to see more female creators and characters take center stage.
McDonald’s established a beachhead in France long ago, so I’m not exactly sure why this is news, except that August is a slow news month in France because everyone is on vacation: The handful of writers who are left to mind the store have apparently whipped themselves into a lather of indignation over the use of an Asterix cartoon to advertise McDonald’s.
“After resisting the Romans, have the Americans finally scalped the invincible little Gaul?” thundered Le Figaro, according to the UK paper The Telegraph. Having eaten pizzas shaped like Smurfs and ice cream from a plastic Pingu head when I lived over there, I’m not sure what the fuss is about. The French aren’t usually adverse to using licensed characters to sell crap, and this isn’t even the first time Asterix has been used to plug the Golden Arches; he subbed for Ronald McDonald briefly in 2001. Nonetheless, a spokesman for Asterix’s publisher, Albert René, had to rise to the Gauls’ defense: “Asterix remains a rebel,” he said. “He doesn’t work for (McDonald’s) but with (McDonald’s). The Gauls ‘come as they are’, as the slogan says. We are not defenders of ‘malbouffe’ (bad food)”. And, he pointed out, they declined to use Obelix in a Diet Coke ad because it did not “correspond to the values of the character.”
Asterix co-creator Albert Uderzo OK’d the ad campaign, and his studio did the art.