Why the French Love Comics

Since childhood I have been charmed by French and Japanese animation or anime. TV shows of my childhood included Astro Boy, Voltron, Ulysses 31, The Mysterious Cities of Gold and more. They held a charm that regular US animation lacked!

cities of goldvoltron


As a young adult I discovered the works of Tin Tin and Asterix, both French/ Belgian creations. What was curious to me  was that these works were largely directed at an adult, rather than child audience.

Perhaps this fact helped articulate the charm these works held? These artists took their work seriously. It wasn’t just for kids.

tin tin

A bit of research reveals the fact that the French have elevated comic strips or bandes dessinees, to the level of a national art form labelled The Ninth Art. Comic strips for adults thus portray historical and political events and political satire, philosophy and more.

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Certain characters such as Asterix and Obelix have become a part of national consciousness, embodying the national spirit. Peter Davy [2011] in his article published in the June edition of France Today writes:

The indomitable little Gaul fighting off invaders quickly resonated with the [1950s]  French public…..


Even today, the character [Asterix] continues to represent the determinedly independent French spirit. It does illustrate the fact that comic strips, or bandes dessinées, play a real role in what historians term “the construction of Frenchness”. To put it simply, Astérix is part of the French national identity.

He continues:

 The country boasts the largest comic market in the world after the US and Japan, worth almost €330 million in 2009, and it sells some 40 million comic albums a year. The annual Festival International de la Bande Dessinée in Angoulême is the biggest in the world, say the organisers; San Diego’s Comic-Con doesn’t count, they argue, because it is an exhibition as opposed to an artistic festival.


The gallery dedicated to French comic strips, La Musee de la Bande Dessinee has been elevated to the category of Museum of France, equating it with the Louvre.  In fact,  the Louvre itself hosted an exhibition of comic strips in 2009.

french art

The secret seems to be to take an artform utterly seriously and allow it capture a national spirit. May there be many more de la bandes dessinees toujour !!

How not to be ‘bourgeoise’

In Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” [1848], the class struggle between proletariat, bourgeois and aristocrats is examined.

Marx, an economic determinist, explored the nature of society and politics, almost entirely in terms of class struggle. He observed that as the bourgeois [middle class] emerged, they gained economic and political power. However, instead of wielding this power, they found it more expedient to tolerate a despotic aristocracy which did not work against their interests. Instead of siding with the growing proletariat [working class] to overthrow the aristocracy, the bourgeois preferred to compromise with the dwindling aristocracy.

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In doing this the bourgeois refuse to acknowledge the rising power of the proletariat. By establishing themselves as enemies of, rather than allies of the proletariat, the bourgeois frustrate true social progress. France post-revolution was a case in point. Marx observed that the bourgeoisie realised that they had been better off under the monarchy (1830-1848) than during the brief period when they wielded power themselves (1848-1851) since they now had to handle the subjugated classes without mediation or protection by the crown.

The term “bourgeois” has largely been dropped from vernacular now as Marx’s theories have fallen from grace in western nations. However, early 20th century modernist literature is peppered with the sentiment:

Don’t be so Bourgeois!

In literary use, the phrase means, “don’t be so crass or vulgar!” Or “don’t have aspirations to aristocracy,” or “don’t be a brown noser.” In cultural terms, the expression is wielded against artists or citizens who do not embrace their full humanity, who look up to power holders to grant them financial endowments or validate their existence. In economic terms, it caricatures the wealthy middle class always keeping up appearances – trying to seem richer than they are with materialist tastes and faux totems of grandeur.

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Marx has a point – that the middle class are surprisingly powerful as owners of means of production. They [we] hold the power to right injustices and fight for equality of resources and opportunities to be distributed to the working class.

If the middle class defer this responsibility by always looking the aristocracy, and indeed by seeking to mimic the aristocracy by guarding up privilege for the self in order to “look like blue-blood” or to seek alliances and privileges and to shore up position, the proletariat are only more seen as enemies and a problem.

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The solution hasn’t been found in economic or social reforms as our current capitalist climate would attest. However, I believe the answer lies in reading more narrative, listening to more songs, looking at more paintings and art, in playing more sport.

Art and games are the great levelers – kings and queens look to art forms and celebrate the humanity made noble. In them the human voice is made strong, the nobility inherent in living is celebrated, no matter class, creed or colour.

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If the bourgeois loose their inclination to “look up” for validation, but instead “look down” to the humans around them, their inherent value and see the injustices they face as their own, the world would be a more equitable place.